Experience In A Complex Area Of Estate Planning Law

Mourning the death of a loved one is a challenging time. When that time is interrupted by an objection to the validity of the individual's will or trust, you want to ensure that your interests are protected throughout an overwhelming, complicated process.

To successfully navigate a will or trust contest, an attorney must have well-rounded knowledge of estate planning matters, as well as an in-depth understanding of the complex litigation rules in California. At Temmerman, Cilley & Kohlmann, LLP, it is the combination of expertise in both areas that sets our attorneys apart. We have extensive experience litigating probate and trust cases as well as will contests. Whether you are an interested party seeking to challenge the validity of a will or a personal representative defending the validity of a will, we are prepared to assist.

Challenging The Validity Of A Will

A will contest is a challenge to the validity of a will. These challenges are made by potential beneficiaries and heirs attempting to invalidate an existing will. Under the California Probate Code, any "interested party," or any person with a financial interest in the will, may challenge its validity.

A will contest may be made for a variety of reasons. Legal grounds for a will contest include:

  • Improperly drawn, witnessed or executed documents
  • Lack of capacity
  • Fraud, duress, force or undue influence
  • Mistake
  • Revocation
  • Misrepresentation
  • Forgery

In California, a challenge to the validity of a will must be made in the probate court within a specified time from either the notice of death or the petition to admit the will to probate. If the court determines that a will is invalid, it may:

  1. Invalidate the entire will and distribute the estate under the laws of intestacy (as if no will existed)
  2. Invalidate only the challenged provisions of the will

If you are interested in challenging or supporting the validity of a will, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible to assist in determining these time frames, as late claims may not be heard by the court.

Assistance With Will And Trust Contests In California

A will is the principal component of most estate plans. However, simply having a will is not always enough to avoid disputes during the probate process. The validity of a will is open to challenge by any interested person and for a variety of reasons.

Will contests can be contentious and complex, often involving trials where evidence must be presented about the circumstances under which the decedent signed the will, the state of mind of the decedent at that time and actions by others that may have influenced the decedent. This may involve the presentation of documentary and physical evidence as well as witness testimony, which is where our team of experienced litigators can be immensely helpful.

Grounds For Contesting A Will

You can contest a will in California on various grounds. First, an attorney may argue that the will was not signed in accordance with state law. State law requires that a will be signed by the testator, by another in the presence of the testator at the testator's direction or by a conservator for the testator. At least two witnesses must also sign unless the material provisions of the will are written in the handwriting of the testator. A will that does not meet these requirements faces a challenge.

The personal representative of the estate, with the help of an attorney, must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the testator intended the document to be his or her will. A skilled attorney may challenge the validity of a will based on the state of mind of the testator at the time of signing. A person must be competent, or able to understand the nature and significance of his or her actions, at the time they sign a will. Wills or individual provisions of wills are not valid if the testator signed by mistake or due to deceit, threat or undue influence from another. A person challenging a will on any of these grounds has the burden of proving that such conditions existed.

Protecting The Rights Of Clients In Litigation

Our attorneys have the litigation experience to effectively represent clients during will contests. Whether you are a proponent or a challenger of a will, we are prepared to consult with you at our San Jose or Danville offices. Schedule an initial consultation with us by calling 408-780-1912 or submitting an inquiry online.