The death of a loved one is a difficult time that can be made more difficult when someone decides to dispute or contest the will of that loved one. Contesting a will is a type of estate dispute that, unfortunately, many families in Fairfax and elsewhere throughout Virginia go through. Disputing a will means that someone is disputing the validity of part or all of the will.
Someone may dispute how certain property should be distributed, the named executor of the will, or that someone should have been included in the will. For example, the deceased individual may have excluded someone who would ordinarily be entitled to property through Virginia intestacy laws but for the fact that he or she wasn’t named in the will.
Disputing a will can only be done during the probate process by certain individuals. In Virginia, only “interested persons” have standing to dispute a will. This means that only people who have an ascertainable interest, are a beneficiary of the will, or those who have a statutory right to an individual’s estate have standing to contest a will. Simply being related to the decedent does not necessarily make someone an interested person with standing to dispute the will.
Once an interested person files a will dispute with the court, which generally must be done within a year from the date the will was probated, the probate process is suspended until the dispute is resolved.
A person disputing a will must have legal grounds to challenge its authenticity. For example, someone contesting a will because he was upset that nothing was left to him is not a legitimate legal ground to contest a will. On the other hand, if someone has proof that someone subjected the decedent to fraud, duress or undue influence during the creation of the will, that is a legitimate legal ground to dispute the will's validity.
Other common grounds for disputing a will include:
After disputing the will and filing the dispute with the court, a hearing is held to determine whether or not the will is valid. If the court determines that the entire will or parts of the will is invalid, then those parts are thrown out. If there is another will, the court may use that will instead to distribute a decedent’s estate. If there is no other will, the court will distribute the decedent’s estate as if the decedent never had a will through Virginia’s intestacy laws.
It can be difficult to work through the complexities of these matters alone, which is why it is important to work with experienced Fairfax estate dispute lawyers who can help you.
Rhonda A. Miller is an experienced estate dispute attorney who can help you through all parts of the probate process. She understands that it is important to listen to you and patiently guide you through difficult proceedings, all while aggressively advocating for you and protecting your rights. Contact her today to see how she can help.