Laws Pertaining to Contesting a Will in Arizona

by Anna Assad

Probate is the legal proceeding used to validate a will and give legal authority to the executor, the person overseeing the estate and transfers to heirs. A will being offered for probate in Arizona may be contested, or challenged, by a person with an interest in the estate, such as a child of the deceased person.

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Valid Will Requirements

The testator -- the person making the will -- must be at least 18 years of age and mentally competent. The document must be in writing and signed by the testator. An attested (typed) will must have the signatures of at least two witnesses. The use of one or more witnesses who benefit from the will does not invalidate the document or any provisions under Arizona law. A self-proved will must be in the testator's handwriting and have an attached affidavit swearing to the will's validity.

Legal Contest Reasons

A will may be contested if the document does not meet validity requirements or a later will was made; the new will supersedes the original will. A mental competency challenge can be used if the deceased person did not understand the value and nature of her property, her legal relationship to all heirs and what her provisions would do. Undue influence, or pressure and coercion by other persons surrounding her while the will was prepared and executed, is a legitimate basis for a will contest, as well as instances of forgery.

Burden of Proof

Arizona law places the burden of proof in a will contest entirely on the person seeking the contest. The challenging party must prove the circumstances or conditions of her contest during court hearings and a trial. Medical reports and other documents may be used to prove the testator was incompetent. A handwriting expert can be used to determine execution fraud. Witnesses to the nature of the relationship between the testator and a person who pressured him can give testimony.

Witnesses in Contest Cases

An attested will contest must include the testimony of a least one of the witnesses, and the person must be mentally sound. A will that is self-proved cannot be challenged on the basis of a false signature unless proof exists that fraud occurred in connection with the signature or affidavit.

Contest Clauses

Arizona permits a testator to insert a clause in her will penalizing any beneficiary who initiates a contest. A "contest clause" may result in the challenging party losing his share of the estate. However, if the court determines the reason for the contest is valid, the clause is rendered unenforceable under Arizona law.