Yes, though the window of opportunity to overturn a will is limited. Each state has different probate laws. In California, the time limit for filing a motion to contest a will approved by probate is 120 days. The probate process takes anywhere from a few months to more than a year, and 99% of wills are adjudicated without being contested. Still, paperwork is filed to contest and overturn wills dozens of times every day at the courthouses across this country.
Valid reasons for overturning a will are:
This is the old “being of sound mind” piece: testamentary capacity refers to the deceased’s mental capacity when creating the document. Reasons to challenge one’s testamentary capacity include senility, dementia, mental illness, and being under the influence .
Forgery, Fraud, or Undue Influence
You can challenge a will by proving some form of manipulation was at hand. Forged signatures, lying to the testator about what they are signing, and other forms of coercion are all solid grounds for nullifying a will.
Another will exists
In the event of competing wills, the first one to get to the courthouse gets first consideration. The initial will can be revoked and replaced if it can be proven that the second will (or similar document) is legal and more recent.
The will isn’t legal
Sometimes a second look at a will can reveal issues that show it isn’t in compliance with existing state laws in the deceased person’s state of residence at the time of their death. Other times, the testator failed to consider other decisions backed by the court, like states where a spouse must be among the beneficiaries, or agreements reached in family court about assets, inheritances, or domestic support. Errors such as these could lead a court to invalidate, scrap, or amend an existing will.
What happens next?
In cases with multiple wills, the court may revoke the initial will and replace it with the newly discovered one. If a will is found invalid and no competing will or trust exists, beneficiaries for the deceased will be identified and prioritized through state intestacy rules. Parties could agree to amend the will on file. In other cases, the person bringing forth the challenge may choose to accept a settlement from one or more of the beneficiaries. Litigation could be complicated and expensive. Family disputes can have deep roots and long-lasting fallout. For some, the issue is not about the money. A legal professional has the experience to help you consider possible outcomes with the guiding question: “What do I hope to achieve?”
Use experts when the stakes are high
While most wills pass through probate uncontested, the ones that don’t are likely to involve high-emotions, fractured relationships, and fierce legal battles. If you have a reason to challenge the will of a recently deceased loved one, or if you believe a will in which you are named beneficiary is being contested, the experts at The Law Offices of Jeffrey Lohman can help. Contact us today for questions about contested wills or any other estate planning needs.