Berge & Berge, LLP Blog

Monday, March 23, 2015

Will Contests: What Are They?

Is there any way to prevent objections to my will?

Sometimes, despite best efforts to craft a thoughtful estate plan, a beneficiary will be disgruntled -- or someone who thought he or she should have been a beneficiary wants to challenge the estate. That person might try to start a will contest by filing an objection to the will. Will contests are very difficult to win and can be very costly to litigate. There are strict rules governing these proceedings, including time limits.

In order to contest a will, a person must have standing, which means he or she has a legal interest in the matter. California Probate Code refers to this as an interested person. Generally, someone who would be entitled by law to inherit from the deceased person would have legal standing.

There are specific grounds upon which a will can be challenged. California Probate Code places the burden of proof on the person challenging the will (referred to as a contestant of the will) to demonstrate lack of testamentary intent or capacity, undue influence, fraud, duress, mistake or revocation. The proponents of the will (for example, the executor who submitted the will to probate) have the burden of proof of due execution (whether the will was signed properly, before the correct number of witnesses and met other requirements).

Careful planning cannot guarantee there will not be disagreements. This is evident in the dispute over the estate of comedian and actor Robin Williams. His widow and third wife, Susan Schneider Williams, and his three children from two previous marriages are in court over the distribution of money, property and personal belongings despite his estate plan.

The Law Offices of Berge & Berge practice exclusively in the area of estate planning. Our attorneys have extensive experience in advising clients about wills, trusts and other options for asset protection. The firm has proudly served the South Bay area for more than 20 years, including San Jose and Santa Clara County. Call us today at (408)985-9918 to arrange a consultation.

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