Imagine a scenario where your parent or loved one dies, and their will indicates that they left their property to a person you don’t believe they would have anything to. Is it possible to contest the will and prove that there was a mistake, fraud, or undue influence? Yes, under California laws, an heir or beneficiary can contest a will.
Who Can Contest a Will?
Under probate law, heirs or beneficiaries of the deceased can dispute a will. An heir is a family member who stands to inherit money from the deceased (i.e. spouse, child, parent, siblings, etc.). If you’re not an heir but you're a beneficiary of the last or current will, you also have the right to challenge the will. However, an heir or beneficiary cannot contest a will because they feel it was simply unfair or because the deceased had promised something else verbally but never put it in writing.
Reasons to Contest a Will
There are a few grounds to challenge a will, including:
California laws allow any adult (person who's 18 years or older) to write a will. Adults are presumed to have capacity to create a will, while minors are presumed to lack the capacity to create a will. To contest a will based on incapacity, you have to prove that the testator (person whose will it is) was unable to understand the consequences of their actions by creating the will. In addition to minors, examples of people who often lack capacity include those with Alzheimers, Dementia, Down Syndrome, stroke victims etc.
Sometimes fraudsters may prey on an unsuspecting elderly, vulnerable or incapacitated person. You can challenge a will if you can prove it was made based on false statements or the use of tricks to defraud the testator. You have to prove that the tricks and false representations were used to prompt the action contrary to the testator's wish. You can also challenge the will based on fraud if you can prove that the will was forged.
- Undue Influence
To contest a will or trust based on undue influence, you need to prove that someone took advantage of the testator by excessive persuasion, coercion, or threat to create a will. The influence can be an adult child, friend, spouse, caregiver, or anyone who impacts the testator's life as an authority figure.
In determining whether all or part of a will was made by undue influence, all of the following shall be considered:
(1) The vulnerability of the victim.
(2) The influencer's apparent authority.
(3) The actions or tactics used by the influencer.
(4) An inequitable result
When Can I Challenge a Will?
A will can be contested under a probate administration case filed with the court. Part of the probate administration can be to prove whether the will is valid or not. You should contact an experienced San Diego estate litigation attorney from Bellator Law Group to advise what deadlines exist to contest a will.
Can I Challenge a Will with a No-contest Clause?
Yes BUT a no-contest clause is a provision that, if the heir/beneficiary contests the will and loses their argument, the heir/beneficiary will be penalized or disinherited. However, you can potentially avoid this issue if you contest with probable clause or you were already disinherited by the will. This can be a very tricky situation to navigate and you should seek the advice of an attorney before risking your inheritance.
Get a Competent San Diego Estate Litigation Attorney Now
If you intend to dispute a will, it's essential to do it as soon as possible. At Bellator Law Group, we understand that this is a complicated task, and that's why we are committed to offering the best estate litigation services. Please get in touch with us today to schedule a case evaluation with our law firm.