A will contest is a legal proceeding that takes place when someone disputes the validity of a will. In California, specific parties are involved in a will contest. Let’s take a look at who they are.
Interested parties in will contests in California
The contest of a will must be brought by an “interested party.” There are many people who can be considered an “interested party.” Typically, an interested party is someone who could inherit either under the will or from the deceased person if there was no will. But other people can be considered interested parties. Some less typical interested parties could include:
- Someone named as Executor of the will
- A creditor to whom the decedent owed money
- Someone who claims the deceased person promised to leave them assets in a will
A will can be contested on many grounds. Some typical grounds for contesting a will are:
- Undue influence: Someone with power over the deceased person unduly influenced the person to leave money or assets to the person
- Lack of capacity: The person signing the will did not have mental capacity when she/he signed the will
- Forgery: The signature on the will was not actually the signature of the deceased person
What happens when a will is contested in California?
First, the person challenging the will must file a petition with the probate court. The interested parties will receive a notice of the contest. If the interested parties dispute the petition, they must file a timely objection to the petition. If they fail to respond within the proscribed time, they may be deemed to agree with the contestant and the court may rule in favor of the petitioner. If the interested parties object, an evidentiary hearing or trial may be set, where the court will consider evidence. Generally in probate, there is no right to a jury trial. Before the hearing, the parties will typically enter a discovery period where they will have rights to obtain evidence, take depositions, and possibly negotiate a settlement. If no settlement is negotiated, the trial commences and the judge will rule on the evidence presented.
If the court finds that the will is invalid, it will be set aside, and the estate will be distributed according to California’s intestate succession laws or in accordance with whatever other findings are made in the hearing (i.e., the money has to be left to a particular party, or that another will is valid and the probate must proceed in accordance with the valid will).
An experienced probate litigation attorney is crucial to helping represent your interests in a will contest.