How Long Do You Have to Contest a Will?

By Beverly Bird

Contesting a will is one of the most complicated aspects of estate law. Deadlines and provisions vary from state to state. If you think you have reason to challenge a will, contact an attorney immediately to find out what the exact time frames are in your area. Generally, your options depend on whether or not the will has been probated.

Contesting a will is one of the most complicated aspects of estate law. Deadlines and provisions vary from state to state. If you think you have reason to challenge a will, contact an attorney immediately to find out what the exact time frames are in your area. Generally, your options depend on whether or not the will has been probated.

Before Death

You cannot legally challenge a will before the testator, or the person who made it, dies. But in some states you can file a lawsuit in civil court while the testator is still alive if you believe another beneficiary has unduly influenced the will. The charge is “torturous interference with an inheritance.” Your time limit to file runs until the testator dies.

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Before Probate

Your next option is to get to the probate court before the will does. This window of time can be anywhere from days to years, depending on when the will is found and how quickly the executor attempts to file it for probate. A "caveat" or written objection placed with the probate court prevents the will from entering probate until your challenge can be heard by a judge.

After Probate

The statute of limitations for contesting a will begins running once it has been legally filed with the probate court. In most states, this is two years. This period generally begins with the date the will is accepted into probate, not the date of death.

Exceptions

A minor cannot file a lawsuit, including a will challenge. Most states extend the time frame for contesting a will in such cases, giving the minor two years after he has reached the age of majority to file a challenge. In 2010, the Texas Supreme Court decided that under some circumstances, the statute of limitations for contesting a will can be extended to four years from the date probate closed. This new law applies if you were unaware that you were an heir at the time the will was probated, such as if you did not know the deceased was your parent. Most states will also make exceptions when a new, more recent will is found after the first one has entered probate. If the new will is declared valid, it takes precedence over the older one. Any statute of limitations to contest it begins when the new will is filed.

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Time Limits When Contesting a Will

References

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The Time Limit for Contesting a Will

Wills are powerful legal documents in which the estate of a deceased person is divided between his beneficiaries. Because the deceased is no longer around to distribute the assets himself, his wishes are carried out by an executor. In order to ensure as smooth a process as possible, the states provide a time limit for contesting the will, and generally does not consider challenges outside of this period.

Can I Contest a Will in Ohio?

In most states, you can challenge, or contest, a will if you have “standing,” meaning a financial stake in the will, and “grounds,” meaning a reason supported by law. In Ohio, however, the rules are a little more complicated, depending on who filed the will with the court. If you feel that you have reason to challenge a will entered for probate in Ohio, consult with an attorney to make sure you meet all the requirements for filing a contest.

Statute of Limitations on Contesting a Will in New Jersey

There are several ways to contest a will in New Jersey, and each has its own time frame and statute of limitations, according to James Curcio, a real-estate attorney who was elected the Atlantic County Surrogate (probate judge) in 2010. In extraordinary cases, there might be no statute of limitations at all. If you think you have grounds to contest a will, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible.

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