Wills can be powerful estate planning tools that can ensure that an individual's estate in California is distributed in accordance with his or her wishes upon death. However, in order for a will to be valid, certain legal requirements must be met. While the vast majority of wills meet these requirements, there are some instances when a wills validity can be called into question. However, when a will's legality is at issue, only certain parties can formally challenge it.
Generally speaking, only those parties who have an interest in the will are allowed to contest it. In short, this means those parties who would have something to gain from a change in a will or a ruling of invalidity can bring an action in court. Beneficiaries, for example, are able to challenge aspects of a will because they are named in the document and would thereby be affected by any such change. The same holds true to intestate heirs. In these situations, an intestate heir may challenge the legal sufficiency of a will, because he or she would stand to inherit more by proceeding through the probate process without a will.
Some people are tempted to insert specific provisions into their will to reduce the risk of a challenge. These clauses often indicate that a beneficiary who challenges a will and is unsuccessful will no longer be able to inherit under the will. Although these types of clauses may be tempting to those engaging in estate planning, it should be noted that these types of clauses are usually unenforceable, meaning that they have little effect.
The best way to avoid a will contest is to ensure that it is drafted in a legally competent fashion with enough surrounding evidence to show that the document was executed while in sound mind and in the absence of coercion. With that being said, though, there are times when a will contest is justified. Regardless of which position you find yourself in, you may want to consider learning more about how the law applies to your unique set of circumstances.