If you recently faced the loss of a close relative or loved one, you most likely had to deal with a will. Very often, one party or another believes that a will is invalid, and wonders if it is possible to challenge the terms of the will.
So, can you challenge a will in the state of California? The short answer is “yes,” but, like most legal issues, it is more complicated than a simple yes or no.
Broadly speaking, challenging a will depends on demonstrating that you have the right to challenge the will and the nature of the challenge itself.
Determine standing to challenge a will
Not everyone can challenge a will. First, a person must prove one’s right to challenge a will, known as “standing.” Standing refers to an individual’s relationship to the creator of the will, which keeps parties who should not have the right from interfering.
According to the Probate Code, those with standing fall into two categories, family members and those with a claim on property or who receive a gift in a will.
Generally speaking, children, spouses and heirs, as well as non-family members who receive a gift (known as devisees) generally have standing to challenge a will, provided that the challenge has a legally viable basis.
However, creditors or others who have some material interest or claim to the estate referred to in the will may also have standing to challenge a will in certain circumstances.
In contrast, community members, friends or associates do not have standing to challenge a will, unless the will specifically names them as beneficiaries.
If you fall into one of these categories, or if a previous iteration of a will listed you as a beneficiary, then you may have legal standing to challenge.
Does a claim have a viable legal basis?
Even if you believe that you have legal standing to challenge a will, your basis for the challenge may be unviable. Legal viability depends on the specifics of your conflict, so it is wisest to consult with an experienced attorney who understands the specifics of probate law in California and understands the local legal system in the Fullerton area.
It is also important to note that many wills contain language to deter challenges, known as a “no contest” clause. This language effectively creates a greater risk to any party who might challenge a will. Under a no contest clause, if some party chooses to challenge a will and loses the challenge, that party also forfeits anything the will originally granted them.
If you believe that you have proper standing and basis to challenge a will, consult with an experienced attorney to examine the finer points of your issue and create a strategy for moving forward with your challenge.