Legal Grounds for Contesting a Will

Few things compare to the loss of a loved one. Grief is a heavy burden to carry, and along with intense sadness, the bereaved may have difficulty concentrating and making decisions. Yet, there are important legal issues to attend to that significantly affect the future of those left behind. Whether the deceased has left a will or not, a probate proceeding determines who is legally entitled to inherit property and assets.

If there is a will and the court has determined the document is valid, the assets are distributed to the heirs and beneficiaries according to the decedent’s wishes. If there has not been any estate planning, the decedent is said to have died intestate, and the property and assets are distributed according to a hierarchy under Florida’s Intestacy Laws. But what happens when someone wishes to contest the will? 

How to Challenge a Will

Often, contesting a will begins with a family conflict or the suspicion that the will is invalid. A person may challenge a will if they have legal standing, such as a beneficiary of the decedent’s current or previous will, or if they would have received an inheritance through Florida’s Intestacy Laws if there was no will.

An interested party files a petition with the probate court to begin the process. A hearing is scheduled to present evidence as to why they believe the will is invalid. Under Florida law, an interested person may file a formal lawsuit to contest a will within 90 days of the filing of the Formal Notice of Petition for Administration. That legal document advises interested parties that probate has been initiated. The estate is not administered until the litigation is settled. 

Grounds for Contesting a Will: 

  • Technical Grounds: The testator (creator of the will) must be at least 18. The will must be in writing, and the testator must sign it in the presence of two witnesses. The two witnesses must sign in the presence of each other and of the testator. If the will is done electronically, it can be signed using video conferencing technology. Unless the will is executed in person or electronically in this exact manner, it can be deemed invalid.
  • Undue Influence: When a person is coerced to sign a will that they otherwise would not have agreed to, it jeopardizes the rights of the beneficiaries, heirs, and family members. A testator with limited mental capacity makes them more susceptible to undue influence by caregivers, family, and friends.
  • Lack of Testamentary Capacity: Under Florida law, a testator must be sound of mind to execute a valid will. Strong evidence, such as medical records and credible witness testimony, must be provided to prove limited cognitive function or mental illness at the time the will was signed. 
  • Fraud or Forgery: Fraud and forgery cover a broad area of deceptive behaviors. Examples include submitting a will that was not created or signed by the testator, signing or amending a will based on false statements, or having the testator sign a will when they are unaware it is part of an estate plan. 

In each scenario, the individual who files the petition for a contest with the court bears the burden of proof.

Protect Your Future with Legacy Law Associates

At Legacy Law Associates, we act as your voice when a will has been improperly or illegally executed. As seasoned legal professionals, we encourage everyone, regardless of age, to have a valid, enforceable will drafted to minimize the chances of a contest. Our estate-planning lawyers have decades of experience crafting wills that fully comply with Florida laws. We are passionate about passing on your legacy to future generations according to your wishes. 

Reach out to our estate-planning legal team if you are an interested party to an estate and have questions or concerns about a decedent’s will. If you need to create an estate plan or wish to have your current plan reviewed, revoked, or amended, we offer personalized legal services tailored to you and your family’s needs.

Contact Legacy Law Associates at (386) 252-2531 to schedule a confidential appointment. We are located in Daytona Beach, Florida, and proudly serve the Volusia County community and beyond.

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