Will Contest Statute of Limitations

Challenging a will as one of the beneficiaries named can be limited.

You may have found out who is included in the last will and testament of a family member. If you don’t agree with the specifications of the will, you may want to contest it. You may wonder how long you have to contest the will or if there is any statute of limitations after a person dies.

How the Probate Process Works

After the death of your loved one, their estate must go through probate. This is a legal process that ensure the will is followed for the distribution of the estate assets to the named beneficiaries.

A person is named as an executor or personal representative. Their job is to manage the estate and pay any outstanding debts. They must give notice to the beneficiaries and creditors. They may sell off non-liquid assets and distribute the cash and any remaining assets to the heirs. The entire process of probate can take months or even years. Once probate has been completed, the executor will petition the court to close it.

Validating the Will

The first step after probate has begun is for the probate court. to validate the will. This means the court determines that the will is valid and must be adhered to when distributing the assets. In most cases, this is a simple process.

The court will ensure that the proper requirements for the will have been followed, which can vary by state. For example, it may be required that two witnesses are present when the decedent signed the will. If everything is in order, the court will require the executor to follow its instructions.

Disputing a Will

If someone disputes the validity of the will, they can petition the court to have it invalidated. They would need to present their evidence to the court, who would rule on whether to accept the will. This can happen at the original hearing before the court accepts the will. Will contests can also happen later on during the process of probate.

Reasons to Dispute a Will

There are stipulations for disputing a will. Only someone directly involved with the estate can dispute or contest the will. The beneficiaries named in the will or those who were left out of the will are considered interested parties and may contest it. The executor may also contest the will even if they aren’t listed as an heir.

To contest a will, you must have a legal reason for the challenge. To say you don’t like the fact that another beneficiary inherits more than you or instead of you isn’t a valid reason for will contests. The following are reasons of legal standing to contest a will.

Undue Influence

If someone exerted undue influence on the decedent and forced them to sign a will that they didn’t agree to, the will may be deemed invalid with a contest. Undue influence doesn’t necessarily mean they were physically forced to agree to the will. It means that someone may have withheld money if they controlled the finances or kept family members away from the decedent. The decedent could have been the victim of emotional abuse or in some cases, physical abuse to cause them to sign the will.

Even when undue influence occurs, it can be difficult to prove. The person contesting the will must have evidence since the decedent is no longer around to support the claim.

Lack of Mental Capacity

If the decedent wasn’t of sound mind, they cannot sign a legal document. You can contest a last will if you believe the decedent wasn’t mentally capable of making the decision about their estate. While this can also be difficult to prove, you can get the testimony of a doctor that can support the claim.


Another reason with valid grounds to contest a will is if the decedent was a victim of fraud. They may not have known what they were signing, which would mean they couldn’t give consent for the instructions in the will.

The Existence of Another Will

The existence of a second will is one of the grounds for contesting valid wills. If you find a will that you believe is more recent, it will invalidate the previous will. You must be able to prove that this will is more recent and that the deceased person was of sound mind and capable of creating the new will. If the court validates the new will, it will revoke the old one.

No Contest Clauses

Some wills include a no contest clause, which means the beneficiaries may not contest the contents of the will. It may penalize them for contesting by removing them from the will. The purpose of this clause is to prevent years of litigation in a probated estate. It can also prevent family members from fighting over the assets.

In most cases, these clauses are enforceable by the court. There are a few instances when they aren’t valid, such as if the will is fraudulent or created by undue influence. In this situation, the grounds for contesting supersede the no contest clause.

Very few wills contain a no contest clause. It is mainly included if the decedent expects arguments about the will when creating an estate plan. By ensuring the person who files the contest is forever barred from inheriting, it eliminates petty disputes.

What are the Time Limitations to Contest a Will?

If you have discovered a valid reason to contest the will, you may wonder what kind of time limitations you are working with to raise a formal objection. It’s better to contest the will as early as possible or you risk losing your inheritance.

There are no strict time limits after a person passes away for contest cases. However, probate will continue until you have made your dispute. If the estate has been distributed, you may find it difficult to regain those assets. Once the executor files a petition to close probate, it means that all the assets have been distributed.

If you suspect that the will is invalid or you have found a newer will, you should file the dispute as an interested party. This will put a pause on probate until the court has had time to hear the case.

Each state sets its own statute of limitations, which can vary widely. For instance, in New Jersey the time is just four months, except in special circumstances. Pennsylvania law allows for one year while other states allow up to two years. The countdown starts on the date when probate is opened rather than the date when the decedent passed away.

Contesting the Will within the Time Limit

Interested parties will need to file the appropriate forms to contest the will. The court will set a hearing to determine if your reason for contesting is valid. You will have time to gather information to present to the court.

If you are unsure whether you can contest a will, if you have grounds, or if you haven’t passed the statute of limitations, you can speak with an experienced attorney by scheduling a free consultation. A contest attorney will advise you whether to take legal action on the matter based on the circumstances surrounding your claim about the will’s validity.