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Contesting a Will: Grounds and Procedures

Probate is the legal process of settling a deceased person’s estate by distributing their assets, sometimes according to their will if they left a will. Thus, a “will contest” occurs when an interested party formally objects to the validity of the deceased’s will. This might be done for several reasons, including arguing the will was signed under duress or that it does not reflect the actual intent of the deceased. 

Although will contests can lead to lengthy court battles and delays in the probate process, it is sometimes necessary to distribute the deceased’s estate fairly and equitably. For this reason, it is essential to understand the grounds and procedures for how to contest a will and the legal steps involved in the process. A probate lawyer can be instrumental in such situations, providing valuable legal counsel to individuals involved in will contests.

Grounds for Contesting a Will

In probate, those who pass away with a will are considered to have died “testate,” whereas those who pass away without a will are considered to have died “intestate.” Thus, will contests only occur when someone dies testate, followed by an interested party who formally objects to the will’s validity. When considering how to contest a will, it’s worth exploring several valid grounds:

  • Fraud or Forgery involving falsified signatures, alterations, or other deception in connection with the execution and attestation of the will.
  • Undue influence whereby an external party exerted undue pressure or influence on the testator, leading them to make decisions against their true wishes or intent.
  • Lack of capacity whereby the testator lacked the mental ability to understand the implications of their decisions.
  • Improper preparation or execution whereby the will did not meet legal requirements, such as improper witnessing or failure to sign the will.
  • Conditional inheritance challenges in which the will contains too many conditions regarding when and how beneficiaries can receive their inheritance.

Once you determine you have legal grounds, you should consider how to contest a will and the legal steps involved in the process. Consider consulting with a lawyer to better understand your options. 


Legal Steps to Contesting a Will

Although will contests may introduce stress, expenses, and delays to the resolution of a deceased person’s estate, there are situations where it becomes necessary. Therefore, individuals contemplating a will contest should contemplate seeking advice from a probate lawyer to assist them in understanding and adhering to the legal procedures associated with such proceedings. These procedures include:

  1. Understand the Grounds for Contesting a Will: If you have a valid reason to contest a will in the decedent’s best interest, you should review your state probate laws to confirm this.
  2. Evaluate Your Standing: Next, confirm that you are an interested party who can contest the will. Interested parties may include:
    1. Heirs or beneficiaries identified in the will,
    2. Close family blood relatives such as aunts or uncles,
    3. Friends and non-blood relations,
    4. Minors represented by an executor or guardian, and
    5. Charitable organizations that are mentioned in the will.
  3. Assess the Will’s Validity: Ensure that the will meets legal requirements. This can include checking that the will was drafted by someone of legal age and sound mind, that it is free from external interference or manipulation, and that it was properly signed, witnessed, and documented.
  4. Gather Evidence: Next, gather evidence supporting your argument for contesting the will. This may include medical records, witness statements, and other documentation to prove your case.
  5. File a Petition: Once you have gathered the necessary evidence, you must file a petition with the probate court. This petition should outline the grounds for contesting the will and provide evidence to support your claim.
  6. Mediation or Settlement: Sometimes, the court requires mediation or settlement discussions before proceeding with a trial. This can be a way to resolve the dispute without needing a lengthy court battle.
  7. Court Proceedings: If mediation or settlement discussions are unsuccessful, the case will proceed to court. During the trial, both sides will present evidence and arguments to support their claim. The judge will then decide based on the evidence presented.

It is important to note that contesting a will can be a lengthy, complex, and emotional experience. However, estate planning or probate lawyers can walk you through each step. These professionals can provide valuable guidance on the process, especially concerning the legality and formality of these procedures.

Hiring a Lawyer

Legal representation is crucial in probate will contestation for several reasons. First, probate law is an intricate practice that varies by state. Only an experienced estate planning or probate lawyer can help you navigate these complexities and ensure you follow all state requirements. Additionally, hiring the right lawyer can help you:

  • Understand the probate process, including the legal steps involved, identifying potential roadblocks, and preparing you for what to expect.
  • Provide sound legal advice and objective reasoning. Contesting a will can be a challenging and emotionally burdening experience, but the right attorney can help you stay level-headed and make informed decisions.
  • Gather evidence to make your case. Remember, this is vital to the success of your case, and you won’t want to leave out any crucial proofs or considerations.
  • Represent you in court, including effectively presenting your case, cross-examining witnesses, and arguing on your behalf.
  • Protect your rights, including ensuring your interests are represented, and the process is just and equitable.

It is important to emphasize that probate varies by state. So, when seeking legal aid, you should consider an attorney’s practice area. Next, you will want to ensure the attorney has sufficient experience in probate and will contest proceedings to guide you through the process effectively. 

Furthermore, it is recommended to check a firm’s track record and consider its legal fees before making financial commitments. Most law offices offer free consultations where you can gain greater insight into these matters before deciding. 

Finally, trust your instincts when choosing a lawyer. Probate proceedings are tedious, lengthy, and can be emotionally charged. You want to find an attorney who is competent, trustworthy, and comfortable to work with.


All in all, if you feel contesting a will is necessary, you should follow these steps and rely on experts you trust for proper guidance. Remember, with the right legal team on your side, you can navigate the process with confidence and peace of mind.

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