Contesting a Will: What You Need to Know

by LegalFix
Posted: March 15, 2024
contesting a will

Contesting a will is a legal challenge against the validity of a will presented in a probate court. Wills and trusts are fundamental legal documents outlining how a person's assets should be distributed after death. They reflect the final wishes of the deceased, known as the testator in a will and the grantor or settlor in a trust. However, sometimes disputes arise, leading individuals to contest the will. 

Why Contest a Will?

Common reasons for contesting a will include allegations of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, or failure to comply with legal formalities. Individuals may contest a will if they believe the will does not accurately represent the testator's intentions, especially if they stand to lose an inheritance or if there are concerns about fairness and legality.

Grounds for Contesting a Will

Perhaps the most common grounds for contesting a will is a lack of testamentary capacity, which is based on the belief that the testator did not have the mental capacity to understand the implications of the will at the time of its creation. For instance, conditions like dementia or severe mental illness might cause questions about their ability to make sound decisions. 

Another reason why you might want to contest the contents of a will is the idea that undue influence occurred. Undue influence suggests that the testator was manipulated or coerced into making decisions in the will that they would not have otherwise made, typically benefiting the influencer at the expense of others. 

Both of these arguments can be raised for the primary body of the will or any relevant codicils if legitimate concerns are raised. 

The Process of Contesting a Will

The first step in contesting a will is filing a petition in the probate court where the will is being administered. This is typically done by an interested party, such as a family member or a beneficiary.

The process involves legal procedures, such as submitting evidence, witness testimony, and legal arguments. It's crucial to have proper documentation, such as medical records or correspondence, to support the claims.

Challenges in Contesting a Will

Proving the grounds for contesting a will, such as undue influence or lack of capacity, can be challenging. It requires substantial evidence and often hinges on the testimony of experts, such as medical professionals or legal witnesses.

Understanding the relevant time constraints is also critical in contesting a will. Most jurisdictions have statutes of limitations, setting a time frame within which a will must be contested after it has been submitted to probate. For example, the state of Illinois grants interested persons the ability to contest the will within six months of its admission to probate. After that, the will is no longer able to be contested.

Alternatives to Contesting a Will

Before engaging in a lengthy court battle, parties may consider mediation or negotiation for an out-of-court settlement (known as a Family Settlement Agreement in Texas, for example). This approach can save time, reduce costs, and preserve family relationships. 

In some cases, beneficiaries may agree to renegotiate the terms of the will among themselves. This can lead to a settlement that is acceptable to all parties without having to resort to litigation. 

Consulting a Probate Lawyer

Legal guidance is crucial in navigating the complexities of contesting a will. Consulting a probate lawyer can provide clarity on the legal grounds and the likelihood of success.

An experienced attorney can help draft the necessary legal documents, gather evidence, provide representation in court, and possibly negotiate a settlement agreement. An attorney can also offer invaluable advice on the possible outcomes and strategies for contesting the will.

It's advisable to seek professional legal advice to understand the implications fully and ensure that your rights are protected. Remember, contesting a will is about fairness, justice, and honoring the true intentions of the deceased. 

Know the Laws with LegalFix

Contesting a will is a significant legal and personal decision that should not be taken lightly. It involves understanding the legal grounds, navigating complex procedures, and often dealing with emotional family dynamics.

Whether you want to know about contesting a will or just want a better understanding of how our legal system works, LegalFix is your go-to source for free legal information. You can find helpful articles and state-specific explanations of nearly 1,600 legal topics and browse the state and federal statutes to better understand the laws that affect you. Just visit to find all this content—and check back often for more valuable legal products and services coming soon.