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How You Can Contest or Challenge A Suspicious Will in California

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

Here's How You Can Contest Or Challenge A Suspicious Will

Wills and trusts, as well as the probate procedure in general, can be the most efficient and least time-consuming approach to ensuring that a decedent's assets are distributed to family, friends, and organizations.

What happens when there are negative actors involved? Or if the most recent Will or Trust is invalidated because the decedent was unable to execute the documents due to mental or physical incapacity?

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Deception, bribery, and undue control can all be used to persuade people to act against their will. Caregivers, neighbors, and "mates" may create an environment in which family members are either ignored or physically excluded. The evil actors than "help" the individuals prepare a new Will or Trust that excludes the family and solely benefits the wrongdoer.

Many times, people will have well-drafted, well-studied estate documents written during the time they are still capable of creating an estate plan and understanding the implications of their decisions. Strangers intrude into the lives of the sick and elderly, and new estate paperwork frequently arises after the person has died. Unfortunately, you must carry the burden of proof as to the victim of a wicked individual who has fraudulently gained control of your family's assets.

The period following a loved one's death is often a confusing time for surviving family members and loved ones. The legal issues that must be addressed can often overshadow the grieving process. For example, if you have reason to doubt the legitimacy of the decedent's Last Will and Testament, you must act swiftly or eternally waive your right to do so. When the Last Will and Testament document is sent to the Probate Court in the county where the decedent died for probate administration, the time limit for opposing a Will in California is set.

How Does Probate Work?

When someone passes away, their estate is expected to go through probate. If the estate must go through probate, it is determined by the size or value of the estate and how the deceased held title to assets. Certain estate planning options, such as establishing a revocable living trust, can help you avoid probate. If a Will is found, it is submitted to the appropriate probate court, together with a request to open probate and a certified copy of the death certificate of the deceased.

Probate is used for a variety of reasons, including permitting creditors to initiate litigation against the estate and transferring estate assets to beneficiaries and/or heirs. The first order of business for the probate court is to validate the decedent's Last Will and Testament. This is also the point at which issues about the legitimacy of the will arise.

Do Basic Wills Require the Services of an Estate Planning Lawyer?

A simple will does not require the services of a lawyer for the vast majority of persons. Will laws are simple to understand and follow, with only a few legal requirements:

  1. Wills must be typed from start to finish. In some jurisdictions, handwritten wills are lawful, but they can only be used if you don't have time to prepare a formal will.

  2. The paper must be signed by at least two witnesses.

  3. You must be 18 years old to make a will. Some states encourage younger people to form wills in particular circumstances, such as if they are married or in the military.

  4. You must be of sound mind to make a will. This is a benchmark that the majority of individuals can easily meet.

  5. A will can (and should) be written in plain English so that you and everyone else who reads it understand the context. You will construct your own will with the support of good self-help tools. Of course, you can hire a California Estate Attorney if you are in a tough circumstance or have legal issues.

What a Well-Drafted Will Can Achieve?

Almost every estate plan should include a simple will. It's possible to use a to:

  • Make a choice about who will inherit your property

  • make a decision on who will be the executor

  • select guardians to look after your minor children and their belongings

A will may also be used to cancel debts, name new guardians for your pets, and specify how your bills and taxes will be paid. Even if you use a living trust to transfer most of your assets and avoid probate, you should always prepare a basic will to choose guardians for your young children and take care of any assets that don't wind up in the trust.

If you die without a will or similar estate planning document in place, such as a living trust, your assets will be split according to your state's "intestacy" rules. Intestacy laws provide your property to your closest relatives (or at least those whom the state considers to be your closest relatives) usually your spouse, children, parents, or siblings. Making a simple will is the most effective way to prevent the state from deciding who receives your land.

Is it true that everyone requires a strong will? There is a small percentage of the population who do not require a will. For example, you might not need a will if you:

  • I don't have any children of my own.

  • There aren't many lands available.

  • It makes no difference to you, whoever inherits your property.

How to Write Your Own Last Will and Testament

With the help of reputable self-help books, apps, or online tools, you can write your own will. A good self-help book will show you how to do it, how to create one, how to make it legally binding, and when to seek legal counsel. Look for a program that employs clear English in both the directions and the content while making a will. You must be completely aware of what you're doing and what the will says. Legalese isn't necessary for a will.

You might not need to spend so much time creating your will if your objectives are simple. Here are a few things you could need:

  • In its totality, your legal name. For things like work, voting, and banking, this should be your legal name.

  • Your partner's entire legal name.

  • Your children's entire legal names and birthdates.

  • Names of personal guardians Names of people who will look after your small children if you are unable to care for them yourself.

  • Your pets' names and information, as well as the people who will care for them if you are unable to.

  • An approximate inventory of your belongings (you won't need this if you're leaving it to one or a few individuals).

  • Names of people that stand to gain. Names of those to whom you would like to leave your property

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  • Beneficiary names are not the same as the ones listed above. The names of beneficiaries to whom you would leave your land if your first-choice beneficiaries died before you.

  • The property guardians' names are shown below. If you are unable to care for your young children's possessions, provide the names of persons who can.

  • The trustee or custodian's name. Names of persons you'd like to run the property you're leaving to your heirs when they're young.

  • There are debts that need to be forgiven. You will have to know the name of the individual who owes you, when the debt was incurred, and how much you are owed if you wish to forgive debts owing to you.

  • Loans and taxes are paid from these accounts. You'll need the account numbers if you want any loans or taxes to be deducted from certain bank accounts.

  • Names of those who will be in charge of finalizing your estate, as well as alternates.

You'll have to enter in your personal information and determine which clauses to include if you use a DIY form, such as the one you can obtain online or in a book. If you're going to employ a fill-in-the-blank method, make sure you have a good self-help tool to guide you. If you use software or an online tool, you won't have to make much effort because the program will put the paper together for you. However, you can double-check that you comprehend and follow your final content.

To make your will legitimate, you and two witnesses will sign it. Although notarization isn't required, you can include a "self-proving affidavit," which is required in several states. The affidavit helps your executor gain probate for your will after you pass away, but it isn't required. A reputable will-writing tool will provide you with this affidavit as well as instructions on how to utilize it.

As you move forward with inheritance planning, you may have a variety of issues and factors to address, including:

  • The inherited asset(s) or property's character. For liquid assets, the optimal inheritance planning alternatives differ greatly from those for land, shares, stocks, and other types of assets. Our prescreened California-based Estate Planning Attorneys have extensive experience examining various types of inherited properties and devising the best future solutions for them.

  • The financial state of the beneficiary. The financial situation of the beneficiary is important to consider when preparing an inheritance because it can influence whether the bequest is spent or saved. If recipients have a lot of debt, for example, inheritance planning will be oriented toward paying off debts and putting some money aside for eventual retirement.

    • When the intended beneficiaries are already financially secure, on the other hand, inheritance planning can be more successfully based on a variety of investments to improve the heirs' financial situation.

  • If the recipient already has an estate plan in place. If the beneficiary does not already have an estate plan in place, the prospect of a big bequest in the future will force them to start arranging their own estate. When beneficiaries have estate plans in place, inheritance planning can also include modifying the terms of people's wills (and other estate planning instruments) to account for the inherited property and/or properties.

    • To summarize that, there is a lot to consider when it comes to inheritance planning, and having our prescreened CA Estate Attorneys on your side will assist you in making the best decisions possible.

  • Irresponsibility in a Fiduciary Relationship. One or more beneficiaries will launch a lawsuit against the trustee if the trustee behaves recklessly or against the desires of the decedent. A suit for violation of fiduciary responsibility aims to recover what a beneficiary is owed under a will or trust. In addition to paying fines or compensation, the trustee's position as trustee may be suspended.

When will you contest a will in California?

Before the decedent dies away, one of the aims of the probate procedure is to validate the decedent's reportedly executed will. You will not be able to appeal the will until it is presented to the court for probate since it must be authenticated by the probate court. Until the court declares a Will to be true, it is essentially just a text. As a result, you could not contest the legality of a Will until the executor of the estate themselves files it with the probate court. However, you must be prepared to file an appeal before the will may be probated by the court. The court will convene in a hearing to determine the validity of a will when it is submitted for probate. If you want to oppose the will, you can object to its admission before the hearing.

If you don't get a chance to appeal the Will the first time, California law allows you to do so again. Assume the will was already found to be valid at the hearing and was thus granted probate. In that situation, you have 120 days from the date of admission to submit a petition opposing the will, effectively asking the court to overturn its initial finding that the will is legitimate.

Additional Considerations

If you're considering challenging a will, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you're in the best position possible. Because anyone can contest a will, the first question in any Will contest is whether you qualify to do so. In order to contest the will, you must have "credit" in the eyes of the law. To file a lawsuit, you must be legally permitted to do so. In California, only an "interested party" has any grounds in a Will contest. Someone who stands to profit or lose money as a result of the case is referred to as an "interested party." It usually refers to an estate's legal successor, a beneficiary of a new or earlier will, or a creditor of an estate.

You must also give a good justification for your objections to the will's legitimacy. Just because you were left out of the will (when you shouldn't have been) or received less than you expected as an inheritance is not enough legal grounds to contest the will. The following are some examples of reasons for declaring a Will void in California:

Who has the power to challenge a will?

You must be an "interested person," which implies you were listed in the decedent's will or would inherit from him or her if he or she died without one. It is not essential to be a member of the family to take part. If you know that a prior will be granted you more, you can appeal a will that reduces or eliminates your inheritance.

State laws protect surviving spouses (and, to a lesser extent, children) against disinheritance, California included. In all other states, property acquired during the marriage is not needed to be divided by both partners. Regardless of what the deceased spouse's Will specifies, most of those states allow a surviving husband or wife to claim one-third to one-half of the deceased spouse's assets. In some areas, the amount a widow or widower can demand is based on how long the couple was married.

There are legal prerequisites, and the surviving spouse is not obligated to contest the will. They take effect, however, only if the survivor files a lawsuit in court to recover his or her portion. If they do not object to receiving less, the procedure shall be followed to the letter.

There are a few exceptions to the norm that children do not have the right to inherit from their parents. Several governments, for example, protect children against being disinherited by accident. Those regulations normally apply if a child is born after his or her mother or father has prepared a will that leaves property to other children and has not changed the will to include the new child.

A will cannot be contested simply because you disagree with one or more of its provisions. Rather, you must prove that it is void for one or more legally recognized reasons. It's a challenging undertaking because the law assumes a will is authentic and accurately reflects the wishes of the maker.

A will may also be contested if you feel the person who prepared it, such as a home health aide, was influenced by someone else. You must demonstrate that the aide was given a chance and was successful in persuading your loved one to change their mind. A will can also be deemed void if the person who created it revoked it, executed it incorrectly, or was the victim of fraud or forgery. Consider one of our prescreened California Lawyers in your California Attorney Search.

Mental state

A true will had to be written by someone who was "of sound mind" at the time it was written. The legal phrase for the mental ability required to make a genuine will is "testamentary capacity." This isn't a really demanding standard. Forgetfulness or a failure to remember friends are not indicators of incapacity.

In most circumstances, when a court is dealing with a question of mental capacity, the individual who wrote the will is asked to:

  • was aware of the need of having a will and that he or she was putting one together

  • knew who their cousins and cousins' cousins and cousins' cousins and cousin

  • He or she was well aware of what they had

  • was able to figure out how to allocate the property

The testimonies of those who saw the will-maker at or very close to the time the will was signed is usually very important in a case involving testamentary capacity. In one case involving a will-maker, the testimony of an Estate Planning Attorney who had never met the will-maker until the day the will was signed was determined to be more believable than that of a doctor who developed an opinion entirely based on medical facts.

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Undue Influence

A will can also be declared void if it was obtained by "undue interference" in court. An evildoer in a position of trust, such as a caretaker or adult child, manipulates a vulnerable person into leaving all or most of his possessions to the manipulator rather than the individuals who should have gotten them. In other words, rather than serving the will-interests, maker's the will serves the wrongdoers.

Is it a Forgery or a Fraud?

Of course, a will contest can be founded on forgery or fraud. Someone could allege that a will-maker was tricked into signing a contract or that a signature was faked, for example. These arguments are frequently used in connection with claims of undue control and testamentary incapacity.

Wills that have been handled incorrectly

A will must be executed and dated in the presence of two adult witnesses. In most states, the witnesses cannot be individuals named in the will as heirs to the property.

In nearly half of the states, handwritten, unwitnessed wills are accepted for probate. "Holographic wills" are legal documents that must be entirely written and signed in the maker's handwriting. (They must also be dated in some states.) Because there are (normally) no witnesses, holographic wills are more easily disputed than ordinary typewritten wills. It is important that the probate court must be convinced that the paper was written by the deceased individual and was intended to be used as a will.

How to Avoid Getting Involved in a Will Challenge

You have a few options on how to put an end to a will challenge, including:

  • Now is not the time to wait. People sometimes make the error of waiting until their physical or mental condition has worsened before creating a will. One of the most common causes of will contests is a person's inability to make a will due to a lacking testamentary capacity.

  • Make use of a no-contest clause. A no-contest clause, commonly known as an "in terrorem provision," is required by the California Probate Code to be included in a will. A no-contest provision states that if a beneficiary contests the will, the beneficiary will receive nothing. If a court determines that a competitor filed the contest without probable cause, the competitor may be precluded from receiving any distribution under the will.

  • Make an estate plan that is based on trusts. Because a will is a public document, it is subject to objections that could lead to a will contest. When you establish a revocable living trust, you transfer ownership of your property to the trust, which avoids the probate procedure. On the other hand, trusts must go through a process of administration, which might be problematic.

  • Avoid Undue Influence. The safest method to preserve your interests is to work with your solicitor confidentially and not include the beneficiaries in your will conversations. Once your will is good to go, you can share your decisions with your family to avoid misunderstandings and potential conflicts.

When Should You Consult an Estate Planning Lawyers In Los Angeles?

While most people can make a simple will without the assistance of a California-based Estate Lawyer, there are some scenarios in which legal advice is required:

  • Circumstances. If you wish to put restrictions on your gifts, go to a lawyer. A condition is a restriction on the beneficiary's ownership of a gift. Assume you wish to bequeath your house to your wife, but once she dies, you want it to go to your sister. Alternatively, you may leave your daughter a substantial sum of money, but only provided she keeps sober. These items could be feasible, but they could also be legally complex, so you should obtain legal guidance.

  • Capacity. If you're not sure if you're "of sound mind," go to an Estate Planning Attorney based in California. If you know what you possess and what it means to give it up in your will, you are definitely of sound mind. However, if you have any concerns about this, or if someone else does, you should obtain legal guidance to be sure you're on the right track.

  • Competitions. If you suspect you will be challenged, speak with an Estate Planning Attorney. A good estate planning lawyer will include extra safeguards to your will to guarantee that no one tries to change your desires after you die.

  • The estate tax. If your home is worth millions of dollars and you want to avoid paying estate tax, see a California Estate Planning Attorney. The vast majority of residents are unconcerned with estate tax because it is only paid by the wealthy.

If you ever need legal guidance, make sure you have a list of specific questions, so you don't end up paying a lawyer to teach you about estate planning. Take the time to select an experienced California Estate Lawyer who will listen to your concerns and work with you to construct your estate plan.

A squabble is brewing over land that isn't subject to probate. Certain critical assets, including 401(k)s and other retirement plans, life insurance payouts, property held in living trusts, and joint bank accounts, are not included in the will. They go to selected heirs, trustees, or joint owners in some cases.

  • Federal and state rules, for example, protect surviving spouses from losing their retirement assets to other heirs. A widow or widower has the most right to all of the money to a deceased spouse's 401k, 403b, or Keogh account, regardless of who is named as beneficiary, if the surviving spouse signed a waiver that declares consenting to the option of a particular beneficiary.

  • As a result, former spouses are protected under federal law. If a man lists his wife as the beneficiary of his 401(k), pension plan, or employer-sponsored life insurance policy, the 401(k), pension plan, or employer-sponsored life insurance policy becomes void when the couple divorces. If he does not change his beneficiary, his ex-wife is likewise entitled to receive those properties.

  • State regulations govern IRAs. A married individual can name someone as a beneficiary of his or her traditional or Roth IRA, but the surviving spouse may be entitled to a portion of the money, depending on state law. If you name your spouse as the beneficiary of an IRA or Roth IRA and subsequently divorce without altering the beneficiary type, your ex will not receive the money. It will be given to the alternate beneficiary you specified.

  • To change the beneficiary status on a savings plan or life insurance policy, as well as the terms of a living trust, you'll need to make a claim. Such circumstances, on the other hand, are unusual, most likely because they are tough to win.

Assets that are jointly owned give you a better chance of obtaining them. Assume you and your brother each have $100,000 in your mother's bank account. In her testament, Mom divides her $50,000 probate estate equally between you and your sister. If that sibling refuses to split the bank account, hire a California Estate Planning Lawyer to file a letter to the bank saying that it should be included in your mother's probate assets. Because of the risk of responsibility, many banks will restrict your sister's access to the account, placing you in a great position to negotiate a lower fee.

Is It a Difficult Task?

A Will contest is a type of adversary pleading that can be expensive and damaging to family harmony, but it is frequently necessary to carry out the real wishes of a now-deceased relative. Despite the No Contest clauses described elsewhere on this website, such competitions are far from uncommon, and the key problem for anyone considering one is to obtain appropriate legal advice and, if required, file it immediately because the longer one waits, the more problematic the contest gets.

If you're an executor or appointed executor who's up against such a challenge, you'll need to act fast to avoid a will challenge. The longer you wait to petition for probate, the more probable it is that you will end up in court.

Invalidating a Will is a serious responsibility that should not be done lightly. On the other hand, the courts are tasked with determining whether the testator's wishes are being fulfilled by the will that has been submitted for probate, and the task, while daunting, is not impossible.

Seek good, calm, and careful advice from prescreened California Estate Lawyers and other family members before making that decision.

Find A Los Angeles Estate Planning Lawyer for Your Case is a California Bar Association Certified Lawyer Referral Service that can refer you to an Estate Planning Attorney that's fit to handle your unique case. You may contact us via our 24/7 live chat (or fulfill our case submission form) for a FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION.

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