Who Can Contest a Will?

Find Out If You Have Standing to Contest a Loved One's Will

Not everyone can contest a will. A lawsuit brought to challenge the validity of a last will and testament can only be filed by certain people or entities who would be personally and financially affected by the terms of the will should it be probated as written. These people are said to have "legal standing." 

So who has legal standing to file a will contest?

Disinherited Heirs-at-Law

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Anyone who would have received a share of the estate if the deceased had died without a will would have standing to contest it. In legal terms, these people are called "heirs-at-law." When someone dies without a will in most states, his property goes to his spouse and to his children, and finally to more distant family members if he's not married and does not have any living children.

If the decedent is survived by three children but only two are provided for in his will, the third child should have legal standing to file a will contest. But this doesn't necessarily mean he would win the case. He would have to establish that deceased didn't cut him out of the will intentionally and that the will is not valid for some reason. Perhaps the deceased was under duress or mentally incapacitated at the time he wrote it. 

The estate would then be distributed as though the deceased had died "intestate" or without a will if it's subsequently thrown out. 

Beneficiaries and Fiduciaries in a Prior Will

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Any person or entity named in an older will should have sufficient legal standing to contest a more recent will if he has subsequently been cut out or his share of the estate has been reduced. But the same caution applies: These people would have to establish that the subsequent will is invalid for some reason.

Likewise, if the individual was named as fiduciary or executor of the estate in the testator's first will, but he's been replaced in a subsequent will, he should have adequate standing to challenge the more recent document. 

Who Can't File a Will Contest?

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The bottom The bottom line is that not everyone involved in the testator's life will have legal standing to contest the validity of his last will and testament. Even if you suspect that a loved one's or friend's will is invalid, if you weren't named as a beneficiary in another will or you're not an heir-at-law, you most likely not have legal standing to file a contest. Even if you have standing, the burden of proof is on you to establish to the court's satisfaction that the will in question should be declared invalid.  

"No Contest" Clauses

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Another potential complication is that some wills include "no contest" clauses stating that if a beneficiary files a will challenge because he's unsatisfied with his bequest, he will lose even the inheritance the will gives him. Of course, this would only happen if he loses the will contest in court. Otherwise, the court's verdict would prevail. If a beneficiary has been cut out of the will entirely, he really has nothing to lose by challenging it.

Not all states will enforce no contest clauses, so check with an attorney if you have reason and standing to contest a will that contains one of these clauses. 

What Should You Do?

Will contests are a complex area of law. If you're still not sure about your legal rights with regard to challenging the validity of a loved one's will, consult with a probate lawyer who specializes in will contests to find out if you have legal standing and possible grounds -- a supportable reason why the will should be overturned.