Ways to Contest a Will in Alabama

By Elizabeth Rayne

Alabama courts seek to ensure that a person's estate is distributed according to his wishes. If the will does not reflect the decedent's wishes for any reason, such as cases where the decedent did not have the mental capacity to write his will, an interested person may challenge the will in either probate court or circuit court.

Probate Overview

In Alabama, wills are processed through the probate court. After someone with a will passes away, the will is admitted to the probate court. The court will then appoint an executor, who may or may not be named in the will, to manage the will in terms of distributing assets and notifying family members. Depending on the timing of the petition, the probate court may also consider will contests. If a will is contested before the will is admitted to probate, the contest petition must be filed in probate court. If the probate process has already begun, the contest petition must instead be filed in circuit court and done so within six months of the will being admitted to probate.

Interested Persons

In Alabama, only "interested persons" may file a petition to contest a will. An interested person is someone who is listed as a beneficiary in the will or someone who would receive part of the estate if the will were found invalid. For example, if the will did not name the decedent's child who would otherwise receive a portion of the estate under Alabama's intestacy laws, the child is considered an interested person who may file a petition to contest the will.

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Grounds

Alabama law allows interested persons to file a petition to contest a will based on grounds that demonstrate that the will does not accurately reflect the true wishes of the decedent. A will may be challenged if the petitioner can prove that the will was not properly executed, meaning the will does not meet legal guidelines such as the requirement for witnesses. Further, a will may be found invalid if there is evidence the decedent was not of sound mind when he wrote the will or he was under undue or improper influence. To prove undue influence, evidence must be provided to show that the decedent had a confidential relationship with the person who influenced him, the influencing individual was controlling and dominant, and she used that dominance to convince the decedent to draft the will as she wanted.

No-Contest Clauses

Alabama law does not specifically prohibit no-contest clauses, which provide that if someone challenges a will, he will be completely disinherited. However, Alabama courts have not ruled that no-contest clauses are always enforceable. Depending on the judge, the clause may or may not be enforced. Generally, no-contest clauses do not apply to valid will contests made in good faith, but instead mainly serve to prevent frivolous petitions made by bitter relatives who did not receive all they hoped for under the will.

Effect of Invalid Will

If the court finds the decedent's will invalid, his property will be distributed under the state's intestacy laws. Generally, under Alabama's intestacy laws, if the decedent had a spouse, she will receive the majority of the estate. If the decedent does not have a surviving spouse, the estate will go to any children of the decedent. Next in line are the parents of the decedent, siblings, grandparents and then more distant relatives.

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Contesting a Will as a Beneficiary
 

References

Related articles

How to Dispute Estates and Wills

When a person dies, the majority of her property is processed through a judicial proceeding known as probate. During this process, the court will determine which will should be used to distribute the property contained in the estate, what property should be included in the estate, and who should serve as executor. The probate court will also settle all disputes related to the estate. The details of probate law vary by state, so you will need to check state law for specific procedures.

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.

Alabama's Statute of Limitations for Contesting a Will

Most states, including Alabama, have rules about who may contest a will and for how long after death someone is permitted to do so. The length of time you have to challenge a will after someone has died is sometimes referred to as the statute of limitations for contesting a will. Depending on the circumstances, you may have as few as six months or as many as 20 years after the death before the statute of limitations runs out.

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