When a will has been introduced into probate, the court proceeding that oversees the distribution of assets to beneficiaries, individuals have the ability to challenge the contents of the will or the entire will itself. These challenges may be raised with or without an attorney. Not all will contests will be entertained, however; both you and your claim must meet specific requirements before the court will hear your arguments.
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To have standing to contest a will, you must be classified as an interested person. An interested person is anyone who is a named beneficiary in the current will, was a named person in a previous will, would inherit property under the state’s intestacy laws, or would inherit property if the will was deemed invalid. In general, if you would gain something from the deceased’s estate if the court agreed with your argument, you are an interested person. State laws may vary, however, and you may wish to consult an attorney to ensure you are an interested person before filing your case.
You may not challenge a will simply because you believe it is unfair or that you were entitled to more assets; you must have a valid legal reason. For instance, you may challenge a will on the basis of incapacity on the part of the deceased, undue influence on the creation of the will by another person, or fraud that induced the deceased to sign the will. You may also introduce a second will and allege that your will is the true, valid will of the deceased. A lawyer can analyze your situation and determine if you have a valid legal claim in your state.
You have a limited window during which you are permitted to file a will contest. Timelines vary by state and circumstance, making the statute of limitations difficult to determine. In general, will contests must be filed within two years of the will’s admission to probate. Certain situations, such as when a minor wants to challenge a will, may extend this limit. Missing the statute of limitations means that your arguments will be dismissed without a judge even considering them, so ensure that you are complying with your state’s laws regarding the time limit for will contests.
Your ability to challenge the will may be limited by a section of the will called a no-contest clause. These clauses generally stipulate that any individual who challenges the will forfeits his inheritance if the contest is unsuccessful. You must weigh the relative benefits of a successful challenge against the risk of losing. Additionally, familial discord may result from a will challenge, so you should ensure that the potential benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks.