When a loved one has recently passed, it is important to the surviving family members that the final wishes of the decedent be respected, especially with regard to their money, property, and other assets. If a family member or other party feels that is not the case, they have the option to contest the will.
To contest a will means to change or eliminate some of the document’s provisions and, in extreme cases, void the will entirely. While most wills proceed through the probate process – that is, the legal process of authorizing a will as valid – some were created or signed under invalid circumstances.
Anyone who stands to gain something from a will can contest the document in court.
Can I contest a will in California?
As with many legal actions, contesting a will is very time-sensitive. You may contest a will as soon as someone dies; however, if another person has already filed to have the will probated, you must contest the will before the probate hearing. If you cannot do that, the statute of limitations is 120 days after that hearing date to file your contest.
When you do file, the burden of proof rests on the contestor. This means that, if you are the party alleging that the will is invalid in some way, you must provide more evidence supporting your point of view. For example, if you are alleging that the will’s author was not mentally capable of authorizing a legal document, you would need to provide eyewitness testimony or medical records to support that claim.
Grounds for contesting a will
While each state has its own unique set of laws regarding wills, there are four major instances that are considered grounds for contesting a will in California:
- The will is not in compliance with relevant state laws.
- The will’s author did not have the capacity to sign their will (for example, if they were afflicted with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease at the time of signing).
- The author was coerced into signing a will against their wishes.
- The deceased was tricked into signing.
Consult a skilled trusts and estates lawyer in California
Whether you are a trustee, beneficiary, executor, or administrator, Daniel Leahy is prepared to treat your unique situation with the sensitivity and attention to detail it deserves. Mr. Leahy is an experienced Northern California estate planning attorney who serves Contra Costa County and the surrounding area.