Things You Must Know Before Challenging a Will

Probate is a court-directed process that distributes the assets of a deceased person among his/her heirs. The heirs receive their part according to the instructions on the last will or testament. It is not necessary to register a will, but it is better if you do so. 

Sometimes people challenge a will, i.e. they challenge the validity of the will. It is not a common practice, but it does happen several times. 

Challenging a will does not have to include dramatic family arguments. Many reasons lead to challenging a will. Most of them are not the result of a family feud or legal battle over celebrity assets.

Once you decide to challenge a will, you will require the assistance of qualified family law lawyers to guide you through the litigation. The estate planning lawyers in Fresno and other parts of the United States can assist you with gathering the much-needed evidence to support you in challenging a will. 

Why Does Someone Challenge a Will?

Challenging a will is a difficult task. It demands a lot of time and resources. If you decide to contest a will, you must take the time to convince the court of its invalidity. This is the reason most wills are not challenged.

There can be several personal reasons behind challenging a will. However, the court has its own set of valid reasons. Some of them are:

  • The will writer did not have a sound mind to understand the will completely.
  • Someone else manipulated the will-writer to write the will. Ideally, the will-writer should not have been under the influence of another person.
  • The will does not contain a written statement from the will-maker. It is unclear whether the document’s purpose is the last will.
  • The will is incomplete, or some parts are missing.
  • The witnesses or the will-maker did not sign the will.
  • The heir disagrees with the distribution of assets in the will.

Who can Challenge a Will?

A will can be challenged on multiple grounds and only the people with a potential stake in the assets can contest a will. They must be an interested party. 

The interested parties include:

  • The beneficiaries that are named in the will.
  • The beneficiaries that were mentioned in the previous version of the will but are not present in the latest version.
  • Potential heirs – anyone accountable for receiving the assets according to the laws. These include children, spouses, siblings, parents, or extended family.

Testamentary Capacity

According to the laws, only adults have the legal capacity to form a will. Minors do not have the right to create a will. However, you can challenge a will based on mental capacity. You should be able to prove to the court that the will-maker was not mature enough to understand the consequences of the will at the time of making. 

The will of a person is mostly disclosed only after his/her death. So, the person relying on the will should prove the valid implementation of the will. They must clear all doubts arising about the validity of the will. 

The court does not serve any suspicious circumstances about the genuineness of the will-maker’s signature.

Forgery or Undue Influence

You can also challenge the will in case of fraud, forgery, or undue influence. Mostly, these cases involve a manipulator who influenced the will-writer to leave a large part of the assets for them. 

You must provide strong evidence if you contest a will on such ground. If you provide due evidence that proves your stance to the court, you can get a legal part from the estate.

Lack of Witnesses

The will-maker should sign the will documents in the presence of at least two adult witnesses to authenticate the will. It is important that the witnesses aren’t the legal heirs of the property. 

Some states allow handwritten wills, but most have made it necessary for the will to be signed. If the will does not have the will-maker’s signature or the witnesses’ signature, it is susceptible to a contest in the court. You can only claim the latest version of the will in court.

Claims by Family

Some relatives could challenge a will if they did not get the adequate part from the assets. Different family members can claim a will if they are not satisfied with their part in the will. 

The hidden family of the deceased person might claim the will. For example, if he had married without the family knowing about it, then his spouse can claim their part in the estate.

Contesting a Will Costs Money

Litigation costs time and resources. Some lawyers receive a contingency fee. The fees equate to one-half or more of the total asset you receive. 

But since this can also work against the lawyers and there is the risk of lawyers ending up with no money, they may not prefer such payment methods. Therefore, you have to hire expert lawyers who are sure to win the case.

Make Quick Decisions

Most of the time, you must make quick decisions if you want to challenge the will. You should contact the lawyer soon after the death of the estate holder. When you hire a lawyer, he will start working on a strategy with you. 

File a suit depending upon the information you have. You have a limited time to challenge a will, so everything needs to be quick.

Emotional Challenges

The court hearings and the legal proceedings are an emotional roller coaster. You will not get your loved one back even when you win the challenge. 

Most of the cases of challenged will are resolved on good terms. But if conditions are not favorable, some of them could turn bitter, too. Hence, do your best to keep the emotions out of the court.

Final Thoughts

While initiating legal procedures in a court of law is simple, it is frequently observed that persons cannot demonstrate such claims with solid evidentiary backing. Robust grounds for challenge and the relevant papers to back up and demonstrate such claims are essential for effectively challenging wills.

It is best to contest a will as soon as feasible to avoid its execution. If the individual challenging the will is successful, the will is declared invalid.


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