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What to expect in a contest over a deceased relative’s will

Whether you believe that the will that was presented to the probate judge is not the deceased’s true final wishes, or you are the executor of the estate and expect a family member to challenge the will’s validity, there are things you should know about how a will challenge works.

Does the person have standing to contest the will?

First, not just anybody can challenge a will in Georgia. To file a lawsuit contesting the will, a person must have legal standing. Generally, to have standing, you must be someone who would be an heir under state intestate laws or was named an heir in a prior will. If the probate judge rules that the plaintiff does not have standing to contest the will, the contest is over.

Have they filed the contest in time?

Timing is another technical but important issue. In Georgia, a party with standing to object to a will has four years from the date the probate court admits the will to file a contest. Or if they were a minor when the court accepted the will, they have four years from their 18th birthday to take action. Other states have shorter time limits, so keep that in mind if you want to contest the will of an estate that is being probated outside of Georgia.

What are their grounds for contesting the will?

Finally, a person contesting a will must have valid grounds under the law. “I’m not happy with my inheritance” is not a valid reason to ask the court to invalidate a will. A testator has the right to have their assets distributed after they die in virtually any way they see fit. Legitimate claims include:

  • Technical problems with the will, such as it not being properly signed or notarized
  • Undue influence over the testator, such as when someone manipulated, threatened or tricked a vulnerable testator into changing their will
  • The testator lacked mental capacity when they made the will due to things like mental illness, intoxication or senility

Whether one or more of these things occurred depends on the evidence in each particular case. Both contesting heirs and executors can hire a probate attorney to advise them and represent them in any litigation that arises.

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