Beneficiaries to wills, along with those who were left out entirely, often wonder what they can do if they believe they were cheated out of their rightful inheritance. In some cases, they may have the right to contest the will. While contesting a will is relatively common, there has to be a good reason to do so. That’s where a skilled attorney is helpful.
At Loew Law Group, we handle many types of probate matters, including will contests. If you believe you were denied your rightful inheritance, give us a call to explore your legal options.
Reasons for Contesting a Will
Beneficiaries, or individuals who have been outright excluded from wills, often believe they received the short end of the estate plan because there was some sort of misconduct involved with drafting and executing it. To contest a will, there must be a legitimate basis for calling it into question.
Simply disliking the inheritance you received, without anything more, is not sufficient to contest the will. Nor is it enough to only be dissatisfied with the amount of your inheritance. On the other hand, these are some examples of valid reasons you may be able to dispute the will:
Incapacity. One of the most fundamental requirements of being able to execute a will is that the testator must have legal capacity. Lack of capacity means that the testator didn’t understand what they were doing in signing the will, that is, they didn’t understand the consequences of their actions, or that they didn’t know who their children or other “natural objects of their bounty” were, or that they didn’t know the nature and scope of the property in their estate. Incapacity is often raised when the testator suffered from Alzheimer’s, dementia, or a similar condition.
Coercion or undue influence. Coercion exists where a person is threatened in order to compel them to do something, such as sign a will. Meanwhile, undue influence exists where the testator’s free will is manipulated by someone else through psychological domination or control. Evidence of threatening behavior or placing other kinds of pressure on the testator may prove the existence of coercion or undue influence.
These claims are often found where a beneficiary had close contact with the testator, sometimes to the exclusion of others. It is not uncommon for a spouse, child, caregiver, or other individuals with access to the testator to exploit it for their personal benefit.
Forgery. There are also cases in which the will was an outright forgery. As with many will contests, usually, these are noticed because of the presence of unusual beneficiaries in the will. Individuals who are unknown to the family or have a little prior relationship with the decedent are unlikely to inherit anything substantial, so they may turn to forgery. Handwriting experts will be called upon to help contest the will.
Revocation. This means the will by which someone was disinherited or wrongly denied their inheritance was revoked. Revocation happens because the old will was destroyed, modified, or replaced by a new will.
Who Can Contest A Will?
Not just anyone can challenge the validity of a will in court. The individual contesting the will must be an interested person, which means they have something to gain or lose by litigating it. This usually includes an heir to the estate, a beneficiary under a former version of the will, or a creditor of the estate.
How Long Do I Have To Contest A Will?
If you suspect you’ve either been disinherited or denied your rightful inheritance or that you are about to be, you need to take swift action. Various statutes of limitations may give you very little time to object, possibly just a few weeks, depending on when the court sets the first hearing on the will’s admission to probate, and when you become aware of an upcoming hearing. The sooner a will contest is filed, the more likely it is that the underlying cause will be identified and fixed.
Probate is the process used to “prove” that a will is valid, and will take place in the county in which the decedent lived. After a will has been filed for probate, the court will set deadlines for contesting it. Also, if the will has not yet been offered for probate but you suspect you’ve been denied your inheritance, you may be able to take action if you can obtain a copy of the will. In any event, ask a skilled California will contest attorney for more information.
The Process For Contesting A Will
Working with a knowledgeable attorney, the first step you’ll take in contesting a will is to file an objection in the probate court that oversees it. The objection will describe the grounds for contesting the will, like one of those stated above. A copy of the objection and a summons will then be served on the heirs and others named in the will (known as the devisees).
After receiving a copy of the objection, the heirs and devisees may file their responses with the probate court. Provided there’s a sufficient basis for the objection, the issue will be tried before a judge. The party contesting the will has the burden of proving it is invalid and may introduce documents and witness testimony to do so. Anyone objecting to the will contest can introduce their evidence to rebut the claims of the contesting party. The judge will then rule on whether the will should be approved or rejected.
If You’re Ready To Fight For Your Inheritance, Call Loew Law Group
Our firm handles all aspects of estate planning and probate, including will contests. But it’s important to take quick action to fight for the inheritance you deserve. Give Loew Law Group a call today to get started.