What Is a Will Contest?
A will contest is a lawsuit filed by a person with an interest in an estate
when he or she believes the will was created when the testator lacked
capacity, was unduly influenced, or had his name forged. "Testator"
is the legal term for a person that executes a will. (Just as a "settlor"
is the legal name for a person creating a trust.) This is a very typical
lawsuit when an elderly person executes a will late in life that makes
significant changes to the terms of his will.
Some famous will contest cases include the Anna Nicole Smith will contest
that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where Smith's
case was decided in her favor. More recently, after Heath Ledger died,
it was discovered that he never updated his will to include his only child.
The only will found left his estate to his parents and siblings, not his
child. One of the most famous fake will cases involved Howard Hughes estate.
When he died, no will could be located until a purported will was presented
that later proved to be a fake. His entire $2.5 billion dollar estate
was divided between his cousins.
Who Can Contest a Will?
Generally, any person or entity named in a will can file a contest as well
as any person that would receive something under a prior will or if the
decedent died intestate (without a will). The person contesting the will
is a contestant and the person offering the will for probate is a proponent.
Of course, this can become a much more complicated issue depending on
the circumstances. For example, if the contestant does not inherit in
the last 2 or 3 wills and has no evidence that the intervening wills were
improper, then the contestant may not be able to legally challenge the
will offered for probate.
Regardless of the circumstances, a qualified will contest attorney can
review the facts and documents in your case to determine if you can contest
the will as well as evalute the strength of your case.