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Can I challenge a will if I think it is unfair?

On Behalf of | Jul 7, 2017 | Estate Administration |

Dissatisfied family members have attempted to challenge wills ever since their creation as a tool to make one’s end of life wishes known and pass on property to heirs. It is, in many ways, a fixture of the process for many families.

These days, however, the notion “I deserve this particular piece of property, it’s my birthright!” carries far less weight than do the terms of the will and the federal and state-level laws that govern estate planning and will execution.

Does this mean that you cannot challenge a will? No, you may still have grounds to challenge a will, but those grounds are much more narrow than many people seem to think they are. Furthermore, depending on the construction of the will itself, challenging a will may mean choosing between an inheritance you don’t prefer and no inheritance at all.

Understanding standing

Standing is a tricky concept, made more so by the fact that it can change subtly or significantly from district to district. In broad strokes, a person who has standing may challenge a will, whereas a person who does not have standing cannot. The difficulty here often lies in determining whether or not you actually have standing according to the specific laws governing our region of California. To fully explore these specific laws and examine the strength of your potential challenge, it is wise to consult an attorney with years of experience practicing in and around Torrance.

In broad strokes, you probably have standing if the will you wish to contest names you, or if you would have inherited something if the decedent had not had a will at all. This generally implies direct heirs or named beneficiaries, but some other exceptions exist.

In many cases, creditors or parties who hold some claim against the decedent’s estate may also challenge a will.

However, if you are, for instance, a lifelong friend of the decedent, or if you are the cousin of the decedent, you probably do not have grounds to challenge the will.

Know what you stand to lose

When considering a challenge to a will, it is crucial to learn whether or not the will contains any “no contest” clauses. No contest clauses create a barrier of risk to anyone who might challenge a will by creating as-written-or-nothing terms on an inheritance.

If you choose to challenge a will that contains “no contest” language, you may not receive anything if your challenge fails. While many states waiver on enforcing no contest clauses, California generally does honor them, so you must do all the necessary homework to determine the strength of your challenge before moving forward. The most recent no contest legislation primarily aimed to weed out frivolous challenges by frustrated heirs.

If you still wish to proceed, build a strong team

While challenging a will is not as easy in California as it is elsewhere, it is still possible in some circumstances. To determine whether or not yours are those circumstances, there is no substitute for consulting with an experienced professional who intricately understands contesting legal agreements in Torrance.

Your team can help you prepare a strong case for the challenge and ensure that you abide by numerous regulations and deadlines throughout the process.