Palm Springs Contesting Wills Attorney

California probate law allows interested persons to contest the Will of a deceased individual. In many instances, creating a Will eases the burden on one’s surviving family members. Nonetheless, a conflict between surviving family members can arise after the death of a loved one. In some instances, a family member who thought he or she should inherit assets from the deceased discovers that they are not a named beneficiary in the Will. Other times, a family member contests the mental capacity of the deceased at the time he or she created the Will.

A successful Will contest results in a probate judge ruling to completely void the Will or eliminate some of the provisions in the Will. Founding attorney Christopher Heritage of Heritage Legal, PC has helped many Palm Springs is a member of the Family Law and Trust & Estates Sections of the California State Bar. If you believe you have grounds to contest a Will, contact Heritage Legal, PC to schedule your initial consultation.

Who Has a Right to Contest a Will in California?

Only interested persons can contest a Will in California. Interested persons may challenge the Will by filing a petition in a California probate court. The California Probate Code defines interested persons as any of the following:

  • An heir, devisee, spouse, registered domestic partner, child, or creditor of the estate
  • Any other person who would have benefited under the terms of an early Will
  • Personal Representatives/Executors named in the Will
  • A person with a fiduciary duty to an interested person who is representing that person

Examples of interested persons include the following:

  • The spouse of the deceased who received a more substantial inheritance in a previous Will
  • An heir who would have inherited part of the estate had the decedent not created a Will
  • A natural heir of the deceased omitted from the Will
  • A creditor of a natural heir of the deceased omitted from the Will

How Long Does an Interested Person Have to Contest a California Will?

Interested persons cannot contest a Will until the Personal Representative submits a Petition for Probate. In a Petition for Probate, the Personal Representative requests that the probate court admit the Will into probate. Once a probate judge admits the Will to probate, the judge will likely issue an order stating that the Will is valid. Those contesting a Will should attempt to contest a Will before a probate judge enters an order validating the Will.

After a probate judge deems the Will valid, an interested person has 120 days to file a petition requesting that the court revoke the admitted Will. The petition to revoke the admittance of the Will must include one or more legal grounds for contesting the Will.

Once the person contesting the Will submits a petition objecting to the Will, the following people must receive notice of the Will contest:

  • The heirs of the deceased
  • Every person named as a beneficiary in the Will
  • The Personal Representatives of the Will.

The Probate Court Will Conduct a Hearing on The Will Contest

California probate courts hold a hearing to determine the validity of the contested Will. The person contesting the Will must give evidence proving the grounds for his or her Will contest. If none of the heirs, beneficiaries, or the Will’s Personal Representative respond within thirty days of receiving notice of the Will contest, the judge will conduct a hearing without them.

In California, an interested party can contest a Will based on one or more legally recognized grounds. Most Will contests contend that the testator improperly executed the Will or that the testator lacked the necessary capacity to create the Will. If they do attend the hearing, they may present evidence in defense of the contested Will. At the end of the hearing, the probate court judge will decide to reject the Will contest or void all or part of the Will.

Legal Grounds for Contesting a California Will

California probate law recognizes several legal reasons or grounds to contest a Will. Grounds to contest a Will usually seek to demonstrate that the testator did not correctly execute the Will or that he or she lacked the mental capacity to create the Will.

The Testator Lacked Mental Capacity

Under California law, a Will is only legally valid when the testator was mentally competent or of a sound mind when signing the Will. A person contesting a Will may contend that the deceased lacked the necessary testamentary or mental capacity to create a Will. A person lacks capacity when he or she is unable to understand what a Will does, which assets he or she owns, and which people will be affected by the Will.

California probate courts presume that the testator was mentally competent when he or she signed the Will in question. Thus, the person contesting the Will has the burden of proof. He or she must provide evidence that the testator was mentally incompetent when he or she signed the Will. Relevant evidence could include medical documentation and testimony from witnesses.

Another Person Exerted Undue Influence Over the Deceased

California probate courts will void a Will when the evidence shows that another person exerted undue influence over the deceased. Proving that another person close to the deceased exerted undue influence regarding the terms of the Will is challenging but possible through witness testimony.

California probate courts recognize several other grounds for contesting a Will, such as:

  • The execution of the Will did not satisfy the required formalities
  • Multiple named Personal Representatives of the Will disagree on the best way to execute the Will
  • A beneficiary may contest the execution of the Will if it is taking too long
  • A beneficiary may contest the Will to seek clarification on the meaning of a clause
  • A beneficiary might contest the Will if the Personal Representative did not distribute the assets properly

Contact Our Palm Springs Contesting Wills Attorney

If you have concerns about contesting a Will in Palm Springs, California, we can help. Contact Heritage Legal, PC today to schedule your free initial consultation and learn how we can help fight for your best interests.

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