Losing a loved one can be an incredibly stressful experience, but some California residents face additional stress in regard to the distribution of assets outlined in the deceased person’s will. For those who believe a will does not properly reflect the true intentions of the deceased party, or when it appears that another party tampered with the process of creating the will, contesting the estate can be the best available option. Working with skilled California Trust & Estate Litigation lawyers can make it far easier to reach a fair and favorable outcome.
What does it mean to have “grounds” to contest an estate?
According to California law, an individual must have standing to bring a legal challenge against a will. This simply means you must be an “interested party,” meaning you stand to lose or gain something if the current terms of a will are changed.
Legal grounds for contesting an estate simply means the reasons given for asking a court to change the terms of the will. There are multiple grounds accepted by the state of California for contesting a will. The term “testator” is used to refer to the deceased person
What are the grounds for contesting an estate?
Understanding the acceptable grounds for challenging the legitimacy of a will can help you decide if you have a strong case and should move forward.
Lack of Proper Formalities
Proper formalities simply means that the will was written by either the testator or their representative, and that it was properly signed by at least two individuals who witness the testator signing the will or were present when the testator stated that he or she signed the will. It’s also required that these witnesses understand that the document they are signing is a will.
Lack of Testamentary Intent or Capacity
A lack of testamentary intent or capacity means that the testator did not have the mental capacity to enter into a binding legal will. This is often used to challenge a will created by a person who suffers from some form of mental illness or cognitive decline at the time the will was drafted. If the testator was diagnosed prior to drafting the will this type of challenge is far easier.
This means the testator was subjected to excessive persuasion or pressure when drafting the will, and that said pressure caused the testator to include provisions that he or she would otherwise not have considered. This type of argument requires that the testator was vulnerable to undue influence, and that the party influencing the testator has some form of authority over the individual. Inequity in the terms of the will can also shape this type of argument.
Fraud can be grounds to contest a will if it appears that false representations were made to the testator in an attempt to convince him or her to change the distribution of assets outlined in a will. Examples can be one sibling who wrongly paints another as being unworthy of inheritance.
In order to be a valid legal document, a will must be written without outside pressure. If a will is created under threat of violence or harm, the terms within can be deemed invalid. Coercion can also create duress, making the testator write in provisions that would not be included if the conditions of duress were not in place.
If a will contains a clear error or multiple errors, an argument can be made that the terms do not align with what the testator intended. Ambiguity is often the cause for this type of will challenge.
There are several ways an individual can revoke his or her will, which renders the terms laid out within void. The most common is by drafting a new will, preferably with language included that specifically revokes any previous will. However, a will can also be revoked if the testator tears it in half, burns it, or otherwise destroys or damages it.
How do I move forward with contesting an estate?
If you feel that one or more of these grounds applies to your case, the best way to proceed is by reaching out to California Trust & Estate Litigation lawyers who can help. Be prepared to share the details of your argument, especially those that align with any of the grounds listed above. Your attorney will explain all available avenues of legal recourse and guide you toward the options best suited for your legal needs and goals.