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A person’s last will and testament is a legal document that states the wishes of the deceased after they have died. A will contains the deceased person’s instructions on matters such as who will care for their minor children, who will handle their affairs after they have died, and how their property will be distributed. If a person is disappointed in the share of the estate they received or believes they were wrongly excluded from the deceased person’s will, they may wish to challenge the will. This is done through a will contest, which simply means that a person is challenging the terms of a will. Contesting a will is usually done in probate court, with the assistance of an experienced probate attorney.

Who Can Take Part in Contesting a Will?

Not anyone can contest a will. If you wish to contest a will, you need to prove that you have standing, or a legal basis for contesting a will. To have legal standing to contest a will, you must be:

  • A beneficiary already named in the will.
  • A beneficiary named in a previous will who was written out of the most recent version of the will or whose share of the estate was significantly reduced in the new will.
  • Someone not named in the will who would be eligible to inherit through the state’s intestacy laws if the will did not exist. Typically, this is a spouse, a child, or a next of kin.

If you have legal standing, you also need a good reason to contest the will. Common reasons to contest a will include:

  • The person making the will was not mentally competent
  • Someone exerted undue influence over the person making the will and convinced the testator to give them a larger share of the estate
  • Laws were broken when the will was written, such as if the will was not properly witnessed or the will was forged or fraudulent
  • There is a more recent version of the will
  • The will is incomplete

How to Contest a Will

You only have a limited amount of time for contesting a will. The time starts to run as soon as you receive notice of probate. This is the day that you were notified that the deceased person has died and his or her assets are being distributed according to the terms of the will.

If you wish to challenge a will, you must file your claim within a certain time period, which is known as the statute of limitations. If you do not challenge a will within this timeframe, your claim is barred and you will have very few options if you wish to challenge the will. The will contest must be initiated in the probate court in the county where the deceased person died. To present a will contest you will need to submit evidence to prove why the will is invalid. You will be required to provide evidence to prove your claim and may be asked to sit for a deposition or testify at a trial.

A probate attorney can represent you in a will contest. Working with an experienced probate attorney will give you the best chance of a successful result. Once you have notified the probate court of your intention to challenge the will, the court will appoint someone to act as a Special Administrator to administer the estate. The Special Administrator will not distribute the estate until the will contest has been resolved.

Resolving a Will Contest

Contesting a will delays the probate process while the court sorts out whether the will is valid. Because of the delay, some of the beneficiaries may be interested in agreeing to a settlement rather than going through a trial. The settlement amount will likely be smaller than what you would receive from a successful will challenge, but resolving a will contest early may save you legal fees and avoid a lengthy court process that could strain family relationships.

If you do not settle the case, and instead proceed to a trial and are successful, you will take control of the assets you claimed. This may take the form of a check or direct deposit into your bank account or a transfer of real property to you. If you lose the will contest, you will be disinherited from other estate property you may have been owed. Even if you do win, the other beneficiaries may appeal the decision, which could result in an even longer appeals process and even another trial.

Preventing a Will Contest

If you are making a will, you may want to try to ensure that your will is not contested. Start by working with an experienced estate planning attorney who will ensure that you follow all legal formalities and remove any ambiguities from the will.

You may also wish to have your will notarized. A will is not required to be notarized, but having a will notarized means the will is “self-proving” and makes challenging the will more difficult. However, a self-proving will only get you so far, as someone could always claim that the will was produced under false pretenses. Alternatively, you may wish to designate some of your assets as payable on death. These assets do not go through probate, so the beneficiary will receive them regardless of the validity of the will.

Some people include a no-contest clause in their will. A no-contest clause does not prevent a person from challenging your will but means that anyone who does challenge your will is disinherited if the will contest fails. This makes a will contest less likely.

Nevada Attorney for Will Contests

Contesting a will is contentious, complicated, and the stakes can be high. You should not contest a will without the assistance of an experienced Nevada probate attorney. Nevada probate attorney Natalia Vander Laan can answer your questions about a will contest and provide advice on the likelihood of success. With offices in Minden and Carson City, Natalia Vander Laan proudly serves people through the Carson Valley.

Learn more about attorney Natalia Vander Laan, get answers to Frequently Asked Questions, and contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation.

Categories: Probate