Although estate laws vary somewhat from state to state, they all have some criteria in their legislation that must be met before anyone can contest a will. Generally, these statutes include a provision that you must “have standing” or be an “interested person” in order to challenge a will. The will must have financially harmed you in some way, or you must have some financial interest in the deceased’s estate.
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Heirs are relatives who would inherit by state law if the deceased had left no will. This usually includes spouses, children -- either natural-born or adopted -- parents, grandparents and siblings. Close relatives of the testator, or the person who made the will, can contest a will if they are disinherited, omitted or left a disproportionate share. They have standing because if the testator had died without leaving a will, they would have received a share of the estate.
Beneficiaries also have standing to contest a will. They are those named in a will, regardless of whether or not they have a blood tie with the deceased. For example, a caretaker who tended to the deceased through a prolonged illness might have received a promise of financial support after the testator’s death. If she receives anything at all in the will, even a dollar, she has standing to contest it. Heirs can also be beneficiaries when they are named in the will but receive less than they think the deceased wanted to or should have left them.
Minors cannot contest a will because they cannot legally initiate lawsuits on their own behalf. However, most states allow a period of time after minors reaches the age of majority to contest a will if the minors otherwise have standing.
Some wills contain “no-contest” or “in terrorem” clauses stating that if a beneficiary contests it and loses, he will also lose the bequest that he did receive. Generally, these clauses are not enforceable and do not bar anyone with standing from challenging a will. The Uniform Probate Code calls no-contest clauses unconstitutional and the legislation in most states provides that anyone with standing can challenge a will if they have good cause.