Procedure for Contesting a Will

By Laura Wallace Henderson

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.


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.

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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.


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.

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How to Contest a Will in Probate


Related articles

Why Do You Probate a Will?

Making out a will doesn’t eliminate the need for court proceedings after your death. A legal process known as probate provides a formal means of supervision for the dissolution of your estate. This process ensures the payment of debts and the correct distribution of assets. An executor has the right to hire an attorney at the expense of the estate to assist with the probate proceedings.

How to Fire the Executor of a Will

Although an executor owes a fiduciary duty to the heirs of the will she administers, the heirs do not hire her and therefore cannot fire her. The testator selects the executor to administer his estate, and after the testator's death, only a probate judge can disqualify an executor upon proof of incompetence or serious infraction. Any heir can object to the executor's capacity or actions by filing a timely challenge, but must prove these allegations at trial.

How Long After a Will Is Settled Do You Have to Contest?

If a loved one dies and the will provisions shock you, a will contest is one option of challenging the document. But the fact that the will seems inequitable to you is not enough. To successfully contest, you need to establish appropriate grounds and act within the limitations period in your jurisdiction.

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