When a person passes on, the contents of their estate commonly disperse to the parties that the decedent’s will specifies. If someone believes that the will is not correct, they will need a valid reason even to begin contesting the will.
When an estate does not have a proper estate plan in place, it can cause friends and family to fight over the estate for years following the decedent’s passing.
What does someone need to be able to contest a will?
Who is eligible?
Not everyone can contest a will. Only those who have “standing” can contest a will. A person has “standing” if the will names them, or if they stand to either gain or lose something based on the outcome of the will’s validity. This requirement keeps strangers from trying to earn a piece of an estate.
How can a person with standing contest a will?
A person with “standing” needs more than just dissatisfaction with a will to contest it. There are four legal grounds available in which a person with “standing” can challenge a will:
- Fraud – if someone can prove that someone made the will through fraud or forgery, it can result in a court dismissing the forged will. Undue influence, like forcing a person to sign a will, can also invalidate the document
- Another will takes priority – the most current will of any estate is the only valid one. If the probate process tries to proceed with an older draft of a will, a person with “standing” can contest the action, claiming that they need to use the correct will
- Testamentary capacity – if the decedent was not of sound mind when they drafted the will, it may invalidate the document. A person needs to fully understand the value of their decision to create a will for it to be valid. If the decedent struggled with dementia, for example, someone could contest that they were unable to express their last wishes
- Inappropriate witnesses – part of making a will official is having at least two adult witnesses sign the will. If even one witness was an heir to the will, the will could be invalid, or the portion of the will that specifies the listed witness may become invalid
How do I start contesting a will?
People who believe they have “standing” and grounds to contest a will seek an experienced estate planning attorney for guidance on what to do next. With proper guidance and valid reason, someone with “standing” can successfully contest a will.