The death of a loved one is typically a time of sorrow and adjustment. However, it may also be a time of hope for those who are heirs to a significant estate. While most people in California do not take the time to prepare an estate plan that will effectively transfer ownership of assets to their heirs, those who do leave behind wills do not always prevent their heirs from taking the matter to probate litigation.
Will contests in probate court often arise when a potential heir is surprised by disinheritance or receives a significantly smaller portion of the estate than expected. When a substantial fortune is at stake, disappointed heirs may question whether the will adequately expresses the wishes of the deceased. Not everyone may contest a will. In fact, only those who are legally eligible may file a protest. This may include a spouse, children or siblings.
Someone contesting a will must have legal grounds, which the law limits to four circumstances. The petitioner must be ready to prove that the deceased did not properly execute the will according to California laws or that someone committed fraud to convince the deceased to write the will as it stands. If neither of these applies, the petitioner may prove that the deceased did not have the appropriate mental capacity to execute a valid will or that someone else pressured the deceased into signing or amending the will.
Proving any of these grounds can be challenging, and anyone who feels within their rights to contest the will has a limited time to file the complaint. Probate litigation can be stressful and emotional. It is wise to have a steady and experienced legal advocate to handle the matter in the most efficient way possible.