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A contest of wills: the who and why

A loved one has passed, and the funeral service has given time and place for memorializing. Out-of-town family members have returned home, and the executor has begun making plans to settle the decedent's estate. California residents who have established a will might believe that is enough for all the relatives to distribute belongings without conflict following their passing. However, loved ones can - and sometimes do - contest wills. 

The Superior Court of Orange County provides information on who can contest them. First, someone holding a grudge because he or she was left out of the will "has a personal financial stake in the outcome," and thus, has "standing" for a contest. This could be a spouse or a child. It could also be children who resent they received a smaller percentage of the assets than their siblings, or those who believe their parents gave too much to local charities. Finally, the Superior Court notes, "Anyone who was treated more favorably in an earlier will" has standing to challenge the current version. 

Why might he or she challenge it? Different versions of wills are one reason; invalid wills are another. If relatives with standing believe the decedent had some type of mental impairment when drafting the document, they may feel strongly to contest it. Also, the Superior Court suggests, a potential beneficiary may challenge a will if a problem with execution of the last wishes exists. 

FindLaw sheds further light on the subject. While each state has unique laws about what makes a last testament valid, most require the following:

  • The appointment of a personal representative "for invoking the terms when the time comes"
  • An explicit statement "that [the document] is the testator's (the person who created it)"
  • Explicit instructions for leaving at least one piece of property to an heir

FindLaw notes that notarization of wills is unnecessary, but many still choose to sign their last testaments in the presence of a notary. 

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