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.

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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Restrictions

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.

Methods

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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The Time Limit for Contesting a Will
 

References

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Legal Questions Regarding the Executor's Handling of the Will

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An executor is a person who handles the financial affairs of an estate, including the distribution of assets to heirs, and is named in the will of a deceased person. Probate, the legal process used to sort out an estate, gives the executor authority to perform his duties. You, as an heir of the estate, have the right to contest an executor's appointment if you are concerned about his ability to perform his duties or if you believe the will naming him is invalid. A will may be invalid under your state's laws due to the mental incompetency of the deceased person at the time the will was made, fraud, or the will maker being pressured or coerced into signing the document.

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