What you need to know before mounting a will contest

It can be quite jarring to learn upon a relative's passing that you did not get an expected inheritance. You may be especially upset that your relative never explained their decision to disinherit you.

When faced with such scenarios, some people consider mounting a will challenge. There are instances where that action is appropriate, but those are rarer than one might realize.

Why it might not work

There are only four legal grounds to challenge someone's will. Unless you can prove to the court that one or more of the following occurred, you will not prevail in your efforts.

1. Fraud: People have been known to trick testators into signing a blank piece of paper under false pretenses that they later incorporate into a fake will.

2. Undue influence: This could come from another heir if that individual put pressure on your relative to alter the will to include more favorable provisions for them and to exclude you.

3. Lack of testamentary capacity: You will need to prove that the testator did not possess the mental capacity to draft a will when this one was written.

4. Improper execution: If the will does not conform to California laws or was otherwise deficient, it might be tossed out of court.

Even if you believe that you can prove one or more of the above grounds, it does not necessarily mean that you should contest the will. For one, it's expensive. Therefore, you need to do a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether you will just be throwing good money after bad. In some cases, even if you win, you will be out a lot of money.

There are other considerations as well. Will you be suing your siblings, a parent or grandparent or perhaps even one of your own children? While it's your call, you also have to weigh the bad blood a will contest will foment against any perceived financial gain.

If you are still uncertain, discuss your situation with an experienced attorney to determine whether to proceed or let it go.

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