Probate consists of legally establishing the validity of a will and is typically done before an appointed judicial authority. Contesting probate involves arguing that some part of a will is invalid or does not accurately reflect the wishes of the deceased. A variety of reasons, most of them emotional, may result in someone contesting probate. Regardless of the reason for the challenge, following a few specific tips can help a person ensure that all concerns are addressed. These include being sure of the exact contents of the will, determining if there’s truly a reason to contest it, and deciding if the gains of a successful fight would outweigh the losses of an unsuccessful one.
First, one should be sure to read the will thoroughly. Many times, family members and close friends of the deceased are emotional when they first read or hear the contents of the will. As a result, important details are often overlooked. If there are any legal terms that are confusing, one should be sure to ask for clarification. Better understanding the will can help to avoid unnecessary confusion, and it can also help in pointing out discrepancies that may be crucial to one's case when contesting probate.
Once the will has been thoroughly reviewed, one should act quickly to address any lingering concerns. Many jurisdictions have limitations on how long a person can take when it comes to contesting probate, so addressing the issues as soon as possible will help avoid losing the right to contest. In addition, it is imperative that anyone with concerns speak with a probate attorney. Only parties who have a financial interest in the estate may contest a will, and being unhappy with the terms of a will is not considered valid grounds for contesting probate. Instead, one must show just cause that the terms of the will are invalid, and a good probate attorney can help to determine any options.
Once it has been determined that there is a case for contesting probate, it is important to weigh the risks involved. Some states have laws in place that dictate that any party who contests the validity of a will must be successful in his motion or risk forfeiting all rights to collect. This is particularly relevant if the will contains a no-contest clause. Losing a claim over who gets the tea set may not be worth losing a larger portion of the estate. Trying first to work out these matters between other beneficiaries of the will can often prevent unnecessary and costly legal action.
If the matter is not able to be resolved and legal action becomes necessary, one should be sure to file the motion contesting probate with the court that holds the proper jurisdiction in the matter. Provide as much detailed information as possible in regard to the case. Any documentation, such as letters written by the decedent that back up the claim, should be presented to the court during the hearing. Doing so will strengthen one's case and prevent a your-word-against-mine argument.