Procedure for Contesting a Will

by Laura Wallace Henderson
State statutes may allow individuals to contest wills if they have standing.

State statutes may allow individuals to contest wills if they have standing.

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When a person dies, his will goes through a court-supervised process known as probate. This process provides a reliable and legal method of managing the deceased’s estate. Individual states regulate the probate proceedings, and may set limitations on anyone's ability to contest the validity of a will in probate.

Probate

Once an individual dies, the executor named in the will files the deceased's will with the court, along with a copy of the death certificate. During probate, the court and executor may perform a number of activities, depending on the directives in the will and the complexity of the estate.

Will Contests

State statutes provide specific instructions regarding when and how to contest a will. A person with standing, meaning an individual who has a personal financial stake involved, may challenge the will for a number of reasons. Common circumstances for contesting include wills that do not contain provisions for spouses or children, unequal division of assets between beneficiaries and the presence of earlier wills that contained different disbursements. The probate judge may restrict contest actions by individuals who can’t prove a legitimate interest in the estate.

Restrictions

If a testator adds a no-contest clause to his will, beneficiaries that contest the will after the testator's death and lose the case are not entitled to receive any assets at all. However, not all states honor no-contest clauses. Probate judges also seldom consider addressing claims by individuals who have no legitimate interest in the outcome of the probate proceedings.

Methods

While state regulations vary, time limitations to contest a will often range between two and six months from the time probate begins. Contact the probate court to obtain explicit requirements for contesting a will. The court clerk may provide you with the necessary forms to file when contesting a will. Include, or reference, any paperwork and evidence that supports your claim, such as copies of earlier or later wills, information regarding the testator’s mental competency when executing the will or reasons to believe the will is forged. The probate court may require you to present copies of your claims to the estate executor and interested parties. During a will challenge or contest, the probate judge will address your claims and rule on the validity of the will.