The Meaning of Denied Probate

By Jeff Franco J.D./M.A./M.B.A.

State probate courts, sometimes known as surrogate’s courts, are charged with probating decedents’ wills. But before the probate process commences, courts must ensure that each will is legally enforceable. If a probate court finds a will to be defective or invalid, the will can be denied probate, in which case, the estate will be distributed in accordance with the state’s intestacy laws instead.

Probating a Will

Initiating the probate process requires a beneficiary or other party in possession of the will to deliver it to the court. The judge overseeing the estate will then make sure that the document satisfies all requirements of the state’s statute that governs the creation of wills. Once the court is satisfied that the will is valid, the person designated as executor must begin liquidating the estate -- subject to court oversight -- by distributing property to existing creditors and beneficiaries of the decedent. However, if the will is denied probate, liquidating the estate and distributing property is subject to an alternative process – one that may not necessarily reflect the decedent’s wishes.

General Will Requirements

Every state creates the legal requirements to which a will must adhere to be legally enforceable; however, the laws are similar across all jurisdictions. When making a will, the will maker, known as the testator, must be at least 18 years old, mentally competent and fully understand all provisions of the will. The document must clearly state that it reflects the testator’s final wishes concerning how he wants his property distributed at the time of his death. In most states, the will must be a written document that includes the testator’s original signature as well as the signatures of at least two witnesses.

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Contests Causing Denied Probate

Courts will assume that a will clearly reflects the testator’s intentions unless someone comes forward and contests that assumption. In many will contests, people claim that the decedent was incompetent at the time he drafted the will or accuse one of the beneficiaries of exerting undue influence over the decedent – both of which are grounds for the will to be denied probate.

Probate Denial Consequences

Once a will is deemed void and denied probate, state intestacy laws govern which family members will receive a decedent’s property, with closer family members given priority over more distant relatives. A probate court typically provides a surviving spouse and the decedent’s children with superior claims to the estate before other relatives.

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How to Contest a Will in British Columbia


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The Requirements for Last Wills Accepted in All 50 States

Laws regarding last wills vary slightly among all states, but in general, a will must meet certain requirements to be valid. A will is not guaranteed to be valid in all states because each state and its probate courts may apply the law differently and have different requirements. A will should be property executed so the testator's intent can be implemented upon his death.

How the Executor Breaks a Will

For an executor to break a will, she must qualify as an interested party. An “interested party” is defined as someone whose rights would be influenced by the execution of the will. If the executor meets this requirement, she can contest the will at the probate hearing under one of five theories: fraud; mistake; undue influence on the decedent; the decedent lacked capacity when he drafted the will; or the will does not meet the state’s formality requirements. If the court determines that the will is defective in one of these ways, the estate will be distributed using a prior will or through the intestacy scheme, a scheme that governs how estates are distributed when there is no valid will. It is important to note that probate law is based on the state in which the decedent lived and that the standards can vary greatly.

Rules for Witnessing a Will

A last will and testament is a powerful legal document that instructs the executor of an estate how to distribute the property of the writer of the will, known as the testator, after he dies. Because of the potential and motivation for fraud, state governments have passed laws imposing strict restrictions on the format of a will. All states require that the testator's signature be witnessed.

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