If you want to know how to contest a Will and win, you need to be prepared, both emotionally and with evidence. Contesting a loved one’s will can be complicated – in and out of the courtroom. Knowing what you will need to do to win before going in can help you make the choice and develop a strategy to protect your loved one’s interests.
Steps for Successfully Contesting a Will
When you file a Will contest in the Florida probate court, the success of your case depends on who you are in relation to the deceased, the basis for your Will challenge, and your ability to produce evidence to prove your case. There are several steps you can take along the way to improve your chances to contest a Will and win.
1. Decide if You Want to Contest the Will
Contesting a Will isn’t easy, especially when you are left out of said Will. Will challenges can be complicated. It is always wise to hire an experienced Florida probate attorney to review the Will and the circumstances under which it was signed. Depending on the circumstances in your case, you may also need to hire expert witnesses, including physicians or forensic accountants, and that can eat into your anticipated inheritance.
Then there is the emotional expense. Most petitioners in Will contests are related to the people on the other side of the case. Even if you aren’t related, you all probably had a relationship with the deceased. That makes this kind of probate litigation very personal. When family members fight over inheritance it can poison family relations for years. Before you decide to hire an attorney, be certain that winning the Will challenge lawsuit is worth the financial and emotional cost.
2. Make Sure You are Allowed to File a Will Contest
Not just anyone can contest a Will and win. You need to have legal authority to challenge the validity of the Will. The people with that authority include:
- Beneficiaries or fiduciaries named in the current Will
- Beneficiaries or fiduciaries excluded in the current Will, but named in a previous version of the deceased’s estate plan
- Heirs-at-law, or “next of kin,” who are closely related to the deceased and would have been entitled to a share of the deceased’s estate if he or she died without a Will
- Guardians of minor children who are either beneficiaries or heirs-at-law to the deceased (filing on their behalf)
If you try to contest a Will and don’t fall into one of these categories, your Will challenge may be dismissed.
3. Hire a Will Contest Attorney
There are a lot of technicalities involved in challenging a Will. As the Will challenger it will be up to you to prove that the document provided was invalid or entered under circumstances such as:
- Mental incapacity
- Insane delusion
- Undue influence
Many of these legal bases, especially those related to the grantor’s mental incapacity or a beneficiary’s undue influence, require working with experts and digging into circumstances that existed decades earlier. You should not try to do it alone. Work with an experienced Will contest lawyer to investigate your claims, evaluate your chances, and build your case.
4. Get a Copy of the Will
You are going to need a complete copy of the Will. This may be on file with the probate court, or stored in your loved one’s home. If you are claiming that the most recent Will is invalid, you will also need copies of what came before to show the court what changes were made.
5. File a Will Challenge
You don’t have much time to build your case, either. Depending upon the form and manner of service, you will generally have either 20 days or 3 months to file your Will challenge after your receipt of probate documents. You can develop your case further after you file the Will challenge but before the final hearing, but you will need to act quickly to preserve your claim.
6. Gather the Evidence Needed to Contest a Will
When you challenge a Will in probate court, it is up to you to prove the Will is invalid. The evidence needed to contest a Will depends on the basis for the Will challenge. In some cases, such as when challenging the technicalities of the Will’s execution, all that is required is the document itself. In other cases, you may need to work with expert witnesses to establish your loved one’s physical or mental health at the time the document was signed. In cases involving undue influence, you will also need to demonstrate that the substantial beneficiary had a confidential relationship with the deceased and was actively involved in procuring the new Will. Talk to your probate litigation attorney to understand the evidence needed to win your Will contest, and to create a plan for how to get it.
7. Consider Mediation
Remember that the people on the other side of most Will challenge lawsuits are family, or at least close family friends. Sometimes everyone, or almost everyone, involved may believe you are entitled to inherit something, even if you disagree on what or how much. You may be able to avoid the time, expense, and hard feelings of lengthy litigation by attending mediation with the heirs listed in the Will. Your attorney can help you reach a compromise that will honor your loved one and mend family ties.
Contesting a Will can be technically and emotionally difficult. You need an attorney who can help you develop a winning legal strategy while remaining sensitive to family dynamics. At Harrison Estate Law, P.A., our experienced estate and probate team understands when and how to contest a Will to protect your interest in family inheritance. We can help you investigate the grounds to challenge the document and negotiate on your behalf with your family. Contact us here or call 352-559-9828 to get help today.