Man submitting a will contest.

Four Things You Should Know About Will and Trust Contests

Your loved one dies, and you discover that you’ve been cut out of the will or trust. You might still be reeling emotionally from the death in the family when you are shocked by this further bad news. The inheritance you have expected throughout your life is not going to happen. 

A California estate planning attorney can help you decide whether to contest the will or trust. There are many reasons to fight a will or trust. The most recent instrument might be a forgery, for example. Or the person who benefits under the document might have exerted undue influence to get your loved one to change the terms of a previous estate plan. If your loved one had Alzheimer’s disease or some other condition that affected their cognitive ability, they might not have had the legal capacity to make a new will or trust.

If you are thinking about contesting a will or trust, here are four things you need to know:

1. The Point of No Return

Things will never be the same in your family after you file a contest. Of course, relationships were already damaged if your loved one made a will or trust that cut out one or more natural heirs.

Expect that future holidays and family events will feel strained and uncomfortable for many years to come, whether you file a contest or not. Also, there can be collateral damage from this situation. For example, your relationships with your nieces and nephews, in-laws, and other people connected to those involved in the dispute could change forever.

2. Get Out Your Wallet

It may cost you plenty to fight a will or trust, and you may have to pay the legal fees and costs out of your pocket, upfront. Many attorneys will only represent you if you pay their fees by the hour, regardless of the outcome of the case. In appropriate cases, however, a few trust and estate litigation firms, including Loew Law Group, take on a will or trust contest on a contingency basis, meaning that they agree to receive a percentage of whatever you win.  

Still, the out-of-pocket costs of filing fees, obtaining documents, paying court reporters, and retaining experts for trial may make a contest an expensive proposition for all involved. Loew Law Group is always happy to discuss potential payment options with clients.

Filing a lawsuit does not guarantee that you will win. When the dust settles, you might end up paying tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and costs and still lose the contest.  

3. Choose Your Lawyer Wisely

Your results will depend in part on the lawyer you hire. Do your homework before you hire a lawyer to handle the contest. Ask for recommendations of lawyers from people you know and trust. When you get the names of several highly recommended trust and estate litigators, ask other professionals, like your accountant or other lawyers you’ve worked with in the past, about the candidates.  Make sure that the lawyer you select is a specialist in trust and estate litigation.

Just make sure that you do not take too long to make a decision. You have very little time to file a will or trust contest. If you miss the deadline, you can lose the right ever to dispute the terms of the will or trust.

4. Prepare to Adjust Your Expectations

Unlike on television or in the movies, you are unlikely to have a “knock-down drag-out” battle in court. 

The vast majority of lawsuits settle. The parties may prepare vigorously and thoroughly for trial, but the risks and costs, as well as the delay, create the incentive for all parties to seek resolution before trial.  Given the limited resources of courts, the judge will heavily encourage the parties to pursue mediation, asking a professional, usually a retired judge, to help them resolve the case.  

Whether you are still on the fence or have made a decision to contest the will or trust, a California estate planning attorney can guide you through this process. Contact us today for a consultation