How Does a Person Contest a Will?

By Kristin Shea

Of the vast numbers of wills probated each year, most don’t encounter significant problems. On occasion, however, a beneficiary -- or sometimes a person surprised not to be named as a beneficiary -- may question a will's validity. The court has authority to hear legal claims challenging a will’s validity. The court also has authority to consider state statutes that supersede the will’s provisions.

Establish Standing

You must show "standing" in order to challenge a will in court. "Standing" means that you can show that you would be affected by the outcome of the legal proceeding. Only interested parties have standing to challenge wills. An interested party includes a person named as a beneficiary who believes that the property should have been distributed differently. A person not named in the will but who reasonably could expect to have inherited, such as a child or sibling, is also an interested party.

Claim Legal Grounds

Once you have established standing, you must base your claim on legal grounds. Some common grounds for challenging a will include the validity of the will itself, the testator’s mental capacity at the time of writing the will, fraud and undue influence. Just because you had hoped to receive a larger inheritance does not constitute legal grounds to challenge a will if other legal grounds do not exist.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Present Proof

The court will require you to show proof of the grounds you claim. If you claim that the testator was not of sound mind, you might present medical records, psychiatric evaluations or witnesses to the testator’s diminished capacity. If claiming undue influence, you might present evidence of predisposing factors -- such as the testator's depression or dementia -- and the nature of the relationship between the testator and the person you believe has unduly influenced the testator. A forgery claim might include a handwriting expert to testify that the signature on the document is not the testator’s.


Spouses are in a unique position. All states have estate laws that provide certain legal rights to spouses. Even if you were to leave your spouse out of the will, intentionally or not, the law may supersede your will in some cases. A spouse can challenge the will regardless of its validity in cases where a spouse has been fully or partially disinherited. However, the voluntary waiver of a spouse through a prenuptial agreement, or the creation by the testator of non-probate estate assets, can result in partial disinheritance. A court can rule on issues regarding the validity of a prenuptial agreement or the legality of the transactions establishing non-probate estate assets.


Every state has its own procedural rules regarding how to challenge a will, but generally, you must challenge the will during probate and meet the deadline established by your state for filing the challenge.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Adultery Laws and Alimony


Related articles

What Does it Mean to Contest a Will?

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.

What Are Desertion Divorce Papers?

Although divorce law is established at the state level, there are some common themes and requirements among the states. For example, individuals seeking divorce must have grounds to file. The permitted grounds for divorce vary by state, but are typically sorted into two categories – fault and no-fault divorce, with some states allowing only no-fault divorce. The majority of states, however, recognize desertion or abandonment as no-fault grounds for divorce.

Legal Grounds for Contesting a Will

You cannot contest a will merely because you believe you should have received more -- you must establish legal grounds. A person with standing -- a beneficiary or somebody who could reasonably expect to be named as a beneficiary -- can file a petition with the court during probate. If the court determines that there's sufficient legal grounds, it can invalidate the entire will or particular provisions of the will.

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

Related articles

Laws on Inheritance Disputes

Sometimes heirs are unhappy with the money or specific property they are left. Inheritance disputes frequently result ...

Reasons to Contest a Will

It is not enough to be unhappy with the way the property of an estate is distributed in a will to contest its validity, ...

Pennsylvania Laws on Inherited Money When Divorcing

When a husband and wife divorce in Pennsylvania, they often need to divide their property. If spouses cannot reach an ...

Laws Pertaining to Contesting a Will in Arizona

Probate is the legal proceeding used to validate a will and give legal authority to the executor, the person overseeing ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED