When figuring out how to distribute a deceased person’s estate, family members may raise will contests or probate disputes. Unfortunately, these conflicts increase the time to settle the estate. They also may create rifts between formerly close family members.
What Is a Will Contest?
As the name indicates, a will contest happens when one or more people raise a legal question about the deceased person’s will. Not liking the inheritances listed in the will does not create a valid reason for a will contest. Instead, the relatives or friends contesting the will must claim, for example:
- The deceased person did not have capacity at the time he or she made the will
- A later will supersedes the one at issue
- Someone had undue influence over the signer of the will
- An amendment or alteration to the will is valid or invalid
- Handwritten notations on the will are valid or invalid
- The deceased person did not follow legal formalities when making the will
Following legal formalities may come up in will contests when a deceased person used witnesses that have conflicts of interest, if there were no witnesses, if witnesses are deceased, or if other signature requirements were not met. When people make handwritten wills or do not use a lawyer, these mistakes may be more common.
What Is a Probate Dispute?
A will contest is a type of probate dispute. Probate disputes happen when a relative or friend of the deceased person has a legal basis for contesting distribution of the estate in the manner set forth by the will or by the court. They also may arise as to trusts or other legal structures that people use to distribute assets after their deaths.
During a probate dispute, distribution of the estate is put on hold. The person or people who believe that there is a dispute must argue their case before the court. An executor or administrator must represent the estate in the dispute, looking out for the deceased person’s interests and intent.
Once the judge reviews the law relating to the will contest or trust issue, he or she may make a decision right away, or the case may go to a hearing or trial. As soon as the dispute has been decided, the personal representative can continue distributing the estate. But the process can take months or years. For that reason, you may want to pursue mediation or private resolution of this kind of dispute. Talk to a trusts and estates lawyer for details.
Planning your estate? Look to Janet Brewer, Esq. for thorough and thoughtful probate and estate planning advice. Janet’s more than 20 years of legal experience will give you confidence and peace of mind. To schedule a “Get Acquainted” meeting, visit Janet's website or call her office at (650) 469-8206.