How Long Do You Have to Contest a Will?

By Teo Spengler
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You don't have to be Lord Hamlet to know when something is rotten in Denmark. If a loved one dies and the will provisions look fishy, it's time to talk to an attorney about a will contest. You'll want to act immediately, though, because the time limit in your state may be as short as 20 days from the day you get notice of the probate proceeding.

Authenticating a Will

After someone dies, her will is usually filed with the probate court. The court's first step is to determine whether the will is valid and authentic -- written as a last will by the decedent. If the will was signed by witnesses, those people may be called into court to testify. If you believe that you have grounds to challenge a will, you must generally do so quickly, generally before the will is admitted to probate or within a certain amount of time after it is filed.

Will Contest Grounds

Anyone who would profit if the will is thrown out can contest it, including those named in earlier wills or close family members who would inherit if the estate were to pass without a will. You can challenge the will by claiming it was invalid. For example, you can claim that the deceased was a minor, she lacked appropriate mental capacity -- termed "sound mind," or the will was not signed by the required number of witnesses under state law. Other grounds for contesting a will involve deliberate evil-doing or trickery. You can challenge a will if the testator was defrauded into believing things that were not true, such as that heirs had died. You can also challenge the will as a forgery or if someone in a position of trust exercised undue influence over a fragile testator.

Time to Contest

State rules vary widely as to how long you have to file a will contest. Even within one jurisdiction, multiple exceptions apply. In many states, the time period begins to run from the date the estate is opened in probate court or the date you received notice. In Pennsylvania, for example, you generally have one year from the date the estate is opened to file a will contest. In Florida, you have 90 days from the date you receive the Notice of Administration, but this can be reduced to 20 days if you get the Formal Notice of Administration before the will enters probate. In Texas, you generally have two years from the day the will is admitted to probate.

Exceptions to Time Period

Whatever the general time period set out in your state's laws for bringing a will contest, exceptions apply. In many states, a minor's time period for bringing a challenge is extended. The time period is also extended in cases of newly discovered fraud or forgery. If the executor or administrator of the wills neglects to inform an interested person, such as a potential heir or beneficiary, about the probate, that person has an extended period in which to contest the will. It is wise to consult an attorney as quickly as possible if you think you have grounds for a will contest in order to correctly determine the time frame for a will challenge.

About the Author

Living in France and Northern California, Teo Spengler is an attorney, novelist and writer and has published thousands of articles about travel, gardening, business and law. Spengler holds a Master of Arts in creative writing from San Francisco State University and a Juris Doctor from UC Berkeley. She is currently a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts in fiction.