So You Want to Contest a Will – Now What?
Depending on when you make the decision to contest a Will, a lawyer could either file something known as a “caveat” or simply file the Complaint. A caveat is a document which, when filed, prevents any subsequent Will from being admitted to probate. Probate clerks will deny probate in the event of “doubt, difficult, or dispute,” and this belongs to the latter category. Note, however, that a caveat is not useful if the Will has already been admitted to probate. In that case, the correct procedural step is to file a Complaint and Order to Show Cause (in New Jersey, anyway) seeking to challenge the Will on one of a number of grounds that we will cover in later articles.
A few things to know here, though: first, a person challenging a Will needs to have “standing.” They need to be either an heir or someone who would have been an heir under another Will or intestacy. Also, there are very short statutes of limitations on challenging a Will – four months for a person living in state after they receive notice of the probate, and six months for someone living out of the state. The purpose of these deadlines is to encourage the finality of estates, because otherwise they would drag out even longer than they do now.
Just to recap: there are short deadlines, there are specific forms, and there are discrete causes of action that need to be pled. This is not a job for the faint of heart, or for the attorney who you called last-minute to represent you on a speeding ticket. The person you choose needs to have experience doing this sort of thing, and you need to trust them. The next few articles will talk about some of the reasons you can challenge a will, and if you have a question about it please feel free to contact me through the website and I'll help you
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