Significant legal fees and costs can be incurred as part of contesting a will in Florida. The state provides a specific timeline for objections, which must be based on one or more of the grounds outlined in Florida law. If you are successful in invalidating all or a portion of the will in court, a judge may order reimbursement from the estate for expenses associated with bringing your action.
Standing to Contest
In order to contest a will in Florida, you must be affected by the will. This refers to something more than simply being upset by how the will directs property to be distributed. For instance, a child that was disinherited by a parent or a husband disinherited by a wife would have standing to object. Likewise, a person whose inheritance was reduced by a subsequent will would be entitled to challenge the newer will's validity. However, a neighbor bearing no legal relationship to the will maker, who is simply angry that out-of-state children are receiving a large share of the estate, would not meet Florida's standing requirements.
The length of time you have to contest a will in Florida depends on whether a probate action has been commenced. If no action has been initiated, there is no time limit and the will may be contested years later. Otherwise, you have three months from the date you are provided with notice of administration from the personal representative, or 20 days if you receive formal notice of the probate proceeding. Objections to the validity of a will may be made even if the will specifies that those who contest its provisions will be removed as beneficiaries. Under Florida law, these clauses are considered unenforceable.
Florida allows you to contest a will on the basis that it was not executed properly or was written or signed under duress. State law requires that a will be signed by the creator in the presence of two witnesses. The individual making the will also has to be mentally competent and understand the nature of his assets. Further, the will must not have been made under the undue influence or coercion of another person. However, the court assumes the will to be valid until it is proved otherwise. This means that the burden is on you to present sufficient evidence to the contrary. An example might be a medical diagnosis that the will maker was suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia at the time he signed the document. After hearing the evidence, the court could declare the whole will invalid or disregard only certain provisions.
Contesting a will can cause you to incur costs associated with hiring an attorney and securing expert witnesses, such as a handwriting expert. In most lawsuits, each party must bear its own court and attorney costs. However, Florida law provides an exception to this rule if you are successful in voiding all or part of the will. This is based on the principle that a person who has rendered services to an estate, including an attorney, should be entitled to reasonable compensation out of the estate assets.