Grief manifests itself in peculiar ways. The loss of a loved one can, in many cases, bring family members together for support.
However, this is not always the case.
When a substantial estate is involved, there may be disagreements as to how property is being distributed among surviving heirs. Disagreements, compounded by feelings of anger and sadness, can sometimes lead to a legal challenge.
If you recently lost a family member and find yourself in the middle of a legal dispute with another family member, we know that you may be feeling confused, frustrated, and unsure of what to do next. In this blog, we will help you understand the legal process and what you can expect from a will or trust contest.
What is a Will or Trust Contest?
A will or trust contest is a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate a will or a trust or a specific provision of the will or trust. Common grounds for will or trust contests include lack of capacity, undue influence, fraud, and mistake(s). A will or trust contest may be brought by a beneficiary of the will or trust (a person selected to inherit by the deceased person) or the decedent’s heir (a person who is legally entitled to inherit from the deceased person in the absence of a will or trust).
How Do You Contest A Will or Trust?
A will or trust contest is a lawsuit that is initiated with a petition filed with the probate court, which describes the will or trust or portion of the will or trust that the petitioner seeks to invalidate and explains the reason that the will or trust or portion thereof should be invalidated. If the will or trust was allegedly procured through the wrongful acts of another person, then the petition should identify the wrong-doer and describe the wrongful conduct. The petition should also state the relief that the petitioner desires.
Assuming that the accused wrong-doer objects to the petition, the case will proceed as a contested matter. In a contested matter, much like a standard civil lawsuit, the parties are afforded the opportunity to uncover evidence through discovery and will argue their case at trial if they are unable to reach a settlement during the pendency of the action.
It can take two to three years to resolve a will or trust contest, which can be emotionally and financially taxing on the parties and the other beneficiaries and heirs. It also delays distribution to the beneficiaries because the result of the will or trust contest affects how the decedent’s assets will be distributed and to whom they will be distributed.
Although a will or trust contest may be a direct dispute between the petitioner and the alleged wrong-doer, all beneficiaries and heirs are entitled to notice of the petition and subsequent filings and hearings before the court because the relief sought by the petitioner may materially affect their rights. Providing beneficiaries and heirs with notice of the events and hearings in the lawsuit affords them the opportunity to give their position to the Court.
Do I Need To Hire A Probate Attorney?
Regardless of whether you are directly involved in the dispute, if a will or trust contest arises and you are a beneficiary or heir of the decedent, it is a good idea to consult with a qualified licensed attorney to review the issues and your legal options. Many actions have a time limit and failure to take action can be construed as a waiver of a legal right and/or your consent to certain actions.
Will or trust contests can be difficult to navigate because the legal issues are complex, contestants often have a misunderstanding of the law, and the parties may be extremely emotional after the loss of a loved one. The Bellator team has represented petitioners, respondents, and beneficiaries involved in will or trust contests, and can help you understand your legal options so that you can make educated choices throughout the legal process.