To the surprise of many, not just anyone can contest a will in California. In fact, in order to do so, the individual must have standing and must present a valid legal reason for the contest within a certain time period.
Standing to Contest a Will
In the context of contesting a will, standing refers to the legal requirement that the party bringing the lawsuit be personally affected by the outcome of the case; i.e. have a financial stake in the outcome. Examples of individuals who have standing to challenge a will are:
- people named in the will,
- people named in an older will,
- people who would have benefited had the decedent died intestate (i.e. had no will),
- any other person having a property right in or claim against a trust or estate which may be affected by the proceeding.
This list is not exhaustive. Speak to an experienced wills and trusts attorney in Los Angeles to determine whether you may be able to contest a will.
What is a Valid Reason to Contest a Will?
An individual must have a valid legal reason for contesting the will and “not liking” the decedent’s decisions around the distribution of assets will generally not suffice. However, if you believe the will is not valid for a number of reasons, including the ones listed below, you may be able to contest a will in California.
A few reasons wills are found to be invalid:
- Lack of due execution – attested wills must be signed by the testator and witnessed by two disinterested witnesses
- Undue influence – someone close to the decedent (such as a close friend, caregiver, financial advisor) used his or her position to exert pressure on the decedent to include them in their will
- Lack of capacity – the decedent was incapable (due to diminished capacity or lack of capacity) and therefore unable to form the intent necessary to prepare a will
- Mistake – the decedent made a mistake in preparing the will which resulted in you not getting what the decedent intended you to receive
- Fraud – the will was prepared by the decedent as a result of fraud on the decedent
If you believe that your loved one created a will under these circumstances or others not listed (including duress, forgery, or you know that the will had actually been revoked before the person’s death), contact a knowledgeable wills and trust attorney to express your fears and learn about your next steps.
Do Not Delay on Objecting to a Will
While California law permits you to file a contest with the court either before or after a will is admitted to probate, it is crucial to note that the court adheres to strict time limitations for filing a will contest. Failing to file a will contest in time will be fatal to your will contest.
If you believe that you have unfairly lost your inheritance or for more information on contesting a will in California, contact the Los Angeles estate planning attorneys at Hart, Watters & Carter today.