If a loved one has passed away and left a will, you may be wondering what comes next. A will is a legal document that distributes assets after death according to your loved one’s wishes. However, their will was a changeable document while they were alive. It is possible that they legally changed it or even revoked the version you have. If you think this may be the case, you may have a right to contest the will to be more favorable to you.

A will can only be contested by meeting some specific criteria. If you are a beneficiary, or if you were at one time included in the will, you have grounds to contest. If you were included in an earlier version of the person’s will but were part of the changes, then you can contest the will. However, if you are simply a friend of the family and you feel left out, the law may not be as favorable. Relatives by blood or by marriage will be the first to be able to contest the will.

Do you have grounds to contest a will?

To contest the will, you will need to prove you have grounds to object to its validity. This means that you must prove that you have the standing to contest the will. You will need to demonstrate that you have the legal right to question the will and bring forth litigation. There are two main steps to determine if you have these grounds:

Interested Party

In California, a person who has grounds to contest a will is called an interested party. You must be someone who has a property right or monetary claim against the estate in question which would be affected by the legal claim. Interested parties that are usually recognized include heirs, spouses, children, other family members, creditors, or other beneficiaries named in some version of the will.

Second, you must have a valid reason to object to the will. Generally, a court will not allow you to contest a will if you have nothing to gain from litigation. Common objections include:

  • Threat, duress, or undue influence – Unlawful pressure to create a will or include certain clauses 
  • Fraud – Deceit was used to get the will written
  • Revocation – The will in question was not intended to be the final will
  • Capacity – The loved one didn’t have the physical or mental capacity to sign the will
  • Mistake – Errors were made in the legal document or in the process of creating the will
  • Forgery – The will was not signed by the person in question

Are there any restrictions on contesting a will?

Yes, in California, there are two main restrictions to contesting a will. This means that you may not be able to contest the will even if you are an interested party if one or both of the following is involved:

  • Time Limit. This limit depends on where the estate is in the probate process. For example, if the estate has gone through the probate court and a judge has approved the will as a valid document – you will only have 120 days to file your objection. If you miss this deadline, you miss your chance to contest the will.
  • No-contest clause. In California, this means that a will can have a section that specifically states that the document should not be contested. If you decide to contest a will that has this clause, the court will determine if you have a valid reason to do so. If you do not, it is possible that you will be disinherited from the will completely for violating the clause.

What next?

If you recently lost a loved one and are thinking about contesting their will, contact us. Legacy Lawyers will guide you through the steps and help determine if you are eligible to contest the will. If you do meet the requirements, we can also help you through the rest of the process and get you a judgment in your favor. You don’t have to do this alone. We are here to help.