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A will contest can throw a monkey wrench into probate

Agreeing to serve as an executor comes with numerous duties and responsibilities. For many people who are still grieving the loss of a beloved family member, these tasks can seem insurmountable. Even going through the decedent's things may be too much at first.

Even so, at some point, you will need to locate and read the will. As the executor, you may begin the probate process hoping that it goes smoothly and doesn't take too long. Then, another family member comes forward claiming that there is something wrong with the will. Now, you must deal with a will contest on top of everything else.

Do legal grounds exist for filing the will contest?

This will probably be the first question you need to ask. An heir or beneficiary may only file an objection to a will under particular circumstances. He or she may not file a contest to the will simply because he or she isn't satisfied with a bequest or the lack thereof. Below are the four legal reasons for a will contest:

  • Your loved one lacked testamentary capacity. This means that he or she did not understand crucial aspects of the process due to diminished mental capacity.
  • Your loved one's will wasn't executed in accordance with California law.
  • Someone tricked your loved one into signing the will through fraud or some other deception.
  • Someone unduly influenced or coerced your loved one into signing the will.

If the objector cannot prove any of these circumstances existed, the contest will fail. However, in the meantime, you may still want to look into the matter.

Determining whether the will is valid

Allegations of diminished mental capacity may require talking to medical professionals regarding your loved one's ability to understand what was going on around him or her at the time of the drafting and execution of the will. It may be necessary to speak with the witnesses and the notary to determine what happened during the execution of the will as well. Claims that someone unduly influenced or tricked the decedent into executing the will, require the objector to provide proof to back up those allegations. 

The burden of proof remains on the person making the accusations. The process can be time-consuming and expensive. The sooner everyone puts the matter to rest, the sooner you can resume your duties and the more assets may remain in the estate for distribution.

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