How Long Does a Person Have to Contest a Will?

By A.L. Kennedy

Most states give you a specific window of time in which to contest a will, and the clock starts ticking once a will is admitted to probate. File a will contest as soon as possible after probate begins to ensure that your will contest is not dismissed for being filed too late.

Most states give you a specific window of time in which to contest a will, and the clock starts ticking once a will is admitted to probate. File a will contest as soon as possible after probate begins to ensure that your will contest is not dismissed for being filed too late.

Notice of Probate

Once the will has been filed for probate and the court has appointed an executor, the executor is required to send notice of probate to certain individuals. These people include the estate's creditors, the beneficiaries listed in the will and anyone who would have received property from the estate under state law if no will existed. Any of these people, known as "interested parties," may contest the will. The time for filing a will contest begins when the person who files or plans to file receives his notice of probate.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Limitations Periods

How long a person has to contest a will is known as the "statute of limitations" or "limitations period" in most states. The amount of time varies according to state law. For instance, the state of Washington allows four months from the time the interested party receives notice of probate and the time she files a will contest. Occasionally, the limitations period may be suspended for certain court actions or other events. An attorney who practices estate law in your state can tell you how long you have to file a will contest and whether any court orders or other events have affected the deadline.

Informal vs. Formal Probate

Several states distinguish between informal probate and formal probate, with different amounts of time to file a will contest in each one. Informal probate is used when the will is self-proving and meets all other requirements of state law. Formal probate is used when a will is not self-proving or does not have the required witness signatures. In states that distinguish between the types of probate, there is often no limit to the amount of time you have to file a will contest if the will is in informal probate. However, once you file the will contest, the will enters formal probate and the clock begins ticking for anyone else who might wish to file a will contest.

Considerations

Consult an attorney before you file a will contest. An attorney can tell you how long you have to file in your particular case, and can estimate how long it will take to build a will contest case that will stand up in court. Since a will contest must be based on a flaw in the will or its execution, you will have to demonstrate that this flaw exists by collecting medical records, eyewitness testimony and similar evidence which may take some time to acquire. Finally, a will contest suspends the probate process, forcing everyone to wait longer for the assets to be distributed from the estate, and an attorney can advise you as to whether making everyone wait is in your best interests.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
How Do Interested Parties File Against a Will in Probate?

References

Resources

Related articles

How Long Do I Have to Contest a Will in Texas?

Texas has six deadlines for contesting a will depending on the circumstances of the case, but things can be complicated by the fact that next of kin or the executor have four years from the testator’s date of death to submit his will for probate. Texas law requires that only named beneficiaries be given notice that a will is in probate. Heirs who are not mentioned in the will do not have to be notified and may not even know that the process has begun.

When Should Wills Be Filed After Death?

A will should be filed after death before the deadline set by your state's law. Often, these deadlines are several years after the date of death. By filing the will as soon as possible after a death, however, you may be able to substantially speed up the probate process. Consult an attorney in your state if you have questions about specific deadlines.

How to Contest Wills in Tennessee

A will contest can fracture relationships and involve significant attorney fees. However, if you are contesting a will with good reason, obtaining the inheritance which should be rightfully yours is enough of a reason to proceed -- with caution. If you succeed in the will contest, and the invalidated will was a second or subsequent will, then the earlier will -- if valid -- will be enforced. If there was no other will, Tennessee’s intestate laws, which apply in the event that a person dies without a will, designate the estate distribution.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

Can You Contest a Will After Probate?

The probate process officially recognizes the will as valid. It also allows the executor to follow the will's ...

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. ...

What Is the Statute of Limitations on Will Contests?

As a child, relative or heir of a deceased person, you may be concerned that the will of the decedent was fraudulently ...

How Long After a Will Is Settled Do You Have to Contest?

If a loved one dies and the will provisions shock you, a will contest is one option of challenging the document. But ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED