What Does it Mean to Contest a Will?

By A.L. Kennedy

A will contest or will challenge occurs when someone files a lawsuit in court stating that he believes the will is invalid. Wills can be found invalid by courts for a number of reasons including that the will's maker was incompetent or forced to leave or not leave certain property to certain people, or that the will itself does not follow the state's laws for valid wills.

Who May Contest a Will

A will contest or will challenge can be brought by any interested party, according to FindLaw. An interested party is any person or business who has something to gain or lose if the will is proven to be invalid. Although most interested parties are family members who do not feel they were treated fairly in the will, a will contest may also be brought by a deceased person's creditors.

How a Will is Contested

A will contest begins when an interested party files a petition to challenge the will in the probate court, according to FindLaw. The party who files the petition has the burden of proving that the will is invalid. The estate's executor or personal representative is usually responsible for defending the will's validity in court. The executor may hire an attorney on behalf of the estate to defend the validity of the will. Will contests are typically heard by the probate court judge, though they may also be heard by a jury in some states, according to FindLaw.

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Reasons to Contest a Will

The grounds for contesting a will fall into three basic categories: The first category includes challenges based on the mental or legal incapacity of the testator to have made a will. A testator may be incapable of making a will if he is under the age of 18 or does not have the mental capacity to understand that his will gives his property away to the people named in it. The second category includes challenges based on the will itself. For instance, a will that is not witnessed properly according to the state's laws for wills may be held to be invalid. Finally, a will challenge may be made on the basis of misbehavior by someone other than the testator. For instance, if someone forced or coerced the testator into adding or removing certain people from his will, or someone forged the will, the probate court may find it invalid.

Considerations When Contesting a Will

Before bringing a will contest, you should consult an attorney about the laws for will contests in your state, your reasons for wanting to contest a will and the contents of the will itself. Will contests can be difficult to win, according to FindLaw. Probate courts typically assume that wills that meet the state's legal requirements as wills are valid. Also, you must base your will challenge on a specific reason as to why you think the will is invalid. Merely filing a will contest because you don't like your share of the estate, without reason to believe the will itself is invalid, usually results in the case being dismissed by the probate court. Finally, some wills contain "no-contest" clauses, which state that a beneficiary who brings a will contest and loses will forfeit his share of the estate. For these reasons, it is wise to proceed carefully when deciding whether or not to challenge a will.

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What Constitutes Fraud When Contesting a Will?
 

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Advice on Contesting Wills

A will contest or a will challenge is a court case brought to dispute the validity of a will, according to FindLaw. In most cases, a will contest is filed with the probate court, and the executor of the estate is responsible for defending the will's validity. It may be wise to hire an attorney for a will contest. He will know your state's laws regarding will challenges, and may increase your chances of success.

Information on Contested Wills

A contested will is the subject of a lawsuit that argues that part or all of the contested will is invalid. Any probate proceedings stop while the will contest is heard in probate court. If the will contest is successful, the probate court then ignores the part of the will that was contested or the entire will, depending on the contest case, and distributes the estate according to state law as if the will never existed.

How to Contest a Fraudulent Last Will

The probate process is designed to ensure that only valid, accurate wills are enforced by court orders and as such, probate courts allow challenges to a will’s validity. State laws vary when it comes to the actual process for contesting a will -- as well as what constitutes fraud concerning a will.

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