In every initial meeting or phone conference which I have had with a potential client about a will contest case, I inevitably am asked whether the potential client has a good case to set aside the will at issue, or, the other hand, to uphold it in the face of a will contest. Of course, there is never a definitive answer to those questions. However, in some cases, I can tell clients that they have identified facts which seem promising in terms of obtaining a favorable verdict. In other cases, I cannot tell them that.
I always tell potential clients that, even if they have identified facts which would seem to support a verdict to set aside a will, there is no way ever to predict what the verdict in a will contest will be. Nevertheless, even though the outcome of a will contest case in Tennessee is unpredictable, it is always wise to evaluate some critical facts at the outset.
This blog is an informal compendium of a few insights I have had over the years in trying to help clients make as good of an evaluation as circumstances will allow of succeeding in a will contest case. The advice and insights here also apply to cases that are not will contests, but which involve someone obtaining the funds of someone else before that person has passed away. (In many cases, bad actors not only use undue influence, misrepresentations, or other improper means to have a will changed, but also, they use the same tactics to achieve ownership of bank accounts, real estate or to become beneficiaries of life insurance policies or financial accounts.)
Many of the factors that will influence a jury in a will contest are matters of common sense. One question I always ask potential clients is how close a relationship did they have with the deceased? Juries will always pay attention to this factor. Years ago, a man called me because his only sibling, his sister, had been left everything in his father’s will, and he had been excluded. In questioning him, he did not have a bad relationship with his father, and they had had no discernible falling out, but he had not even visited his father in many years. On the other hand, his sister had maintained very steady personal contact with their father. All things being equal, that circumstance, in my estimation, hurt his chances of success in a will contest.