The death of a loved one is easily one of the most emotionally trying experiences an individual can go through. This is true even when the probate process runs smoothly, without contention from family members. Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible for the situation to become even more difficult to work through if the will ends up being contested during probate.
On a more positive note, it is quite rare that someone contests a will. So, whenever this does occur, it can be shocking to those involved, leaving them unsure of how to proceed. If a will is contested during probate, should the other members of the deceased’s family fight back? How likely is it that the individual who’s contesting probate will actually succeed and have the will rendered invalid?
To answer the previous questions, it isn’t an easy task to succeed at contesting a will. However, fighting a probate contest can be a strenuous and time-consuming task for anyone else involved in the situation.
If you have found yourself in the middle of a contested will, here’s a short guide on how to best proceed.
The decision to contest probate or a will isn’t one that should be taken lightly or made without the proper consideration and reasoning. Essentially, the reasons that someone is able to (successfully) contest a will are on the limited side.
It isn’t possible for probate or a will to be contested for just any reason. Most importantly, however, it’s necessary that there is a legal reason for the will to be reconsidered. Much of the time, individuals who are tempted to contest a will are coming from an emotional place rather than a practical one.
This is understandable, given how emotional losing a loved one can render someone and how easily these emotions can redirect that person’s actions. Nonetheless, attempts to contest probate for being “unfair” aren’t going to be successful. Instead, the contest needs to occur because the individual has a legal reason to believe that the will isn’t valid. These are the only instances where the individual truly has the legal grounds to contest probate.
Some of the most common reasons people opt to contest probate are the following:
In instances where probate court determines that there is a valid reason for the will to be contested, the situation can be stressful and time-consuming for everyone involved.
At this point in the process, the probate judge will enact a contest hearing. The primary objective of a will contest hearing is to determine, with certainty, whether the will is truly valid. Of course, whenever one of these hearings occurs, the probate process is likely to be extended — sometimes by a significant amount of time.
Not only will this cost everyone additional time, but it will render probate even more expensive, no matter which side of the contest an individual is on. Essentially, it isn’t cheap to fight a probate contest.
So, even when a will is a legally valid document, is it still an option for someone to contest it? Ultimately, yes, it is entirely possible for someone to contest a valid will. Why is this, however?
Remember that the contest is simply someone’s attempt to claim (and eventually prove) that the will is legally invalid, for whatever reason. At this stage, the court will be able to look at the evidence that’s available to them. They can then use this evidence to determine whether the will is invalid or if the contesting individual is attempting to overturn a valid will. If it’s decided that the will is valid, then the contest is going to fail.
For a will to be valid, the signature must have been left while the signer was in a sound state of mind, and the signature must be either original or left by a valid Power of Attorney. Further, any witnesses who have signed the will must also have left valid signatures.
If it’s found that the will has not been signed, or if the will appears to be lacking the legally required number of witnesses, then this is a swift way for it to be rendered invalid.
Although it’s technically possible for a valid will to be contested, that contest will only advance further if the individual can prove one of the following:
For someone to successfully contest probate or a will, they must be:
If someone attempts to contest probate without falling under one of these categories, the contest will be unable to proceed.
If you’re the executor of the will, you’ll need to respond to any contests that occur. While this isn’t an easy position to find yourself in, it’s important to proceed with the aid of a probate attorney. An attorney will have the knowledge necessary to determine the validity of a contest during probate.
That being said, a probate attorney can also fight to have assets distributed in a particular way, should the will be deemed invalid. In any case, if you’re in the Orange County area, make sure to get in touch with Sweeney Probate Law as soon as possible. We are experts in instances of contested wills or probate and can help you through this difficult process from start to finish.
To schedule a consultation with Sweeney Probate Law, simply fill out the contact form on our website.