When someone passes away (commonly referred to as a “decedent”), one of the first things to do is determine whether the decedent left a will.
If the decedent did leave a will, it must go through the probate process in court before the property can be distributed to their beneficiaries.
The probate process can be complicated. Sometimes, after a will is admitted to probate, concerns may arise about the document’s validity. In these situations, certain individuals may be able to “contest” the will.
If you have questions about whether and to what extent you can legally contest a will in Texas, Massingill is here to help.
Keep reading to learn more about the requirements for and process of contesting a will. If you have questions, please contact us today.
Contesting a Will: What Does It Mean?
Before diving into the details, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what it means to contest a will.
Contesting a will is the legal process through which someone can challenge the validity or terms of a decedent’s last will and testament in a court of law.
The goal is to seek a court ruling that the will is invalid, either in whole or part, often altering the distribution of the decedent’s property.
Who Can Contest a Will in Texas
Only certain parties may legally contest a will in Texas. Specifically, only “interested persons” are permitted to bring a legal action to contest the validity of a will.
Under Texas Estates Code section 22.018(1), an interested person is defined as any “heir, devisee, spouse, creditor, or any other having a property right in or claim against an estate being administered.”
Examples of interested persons in a will contest often include:
- The executor of the estate;
- The surviving spouse or children of the decedent;
- Creditors to whom the decedent owed a debt at the time of their death; and
- Other beneficiaries or heirs who might inherit from the decedent’s estate if the will contest succeeds.
Thus, individuals and entities with no relationship to the decedent or any right in or claim against the estate may not contest the validity of a will in Texas.
On What Grounds Can a Will Be Contested?
Notably, an interested person may not contest a will simply because they are unhappy with the amount of their inheritance. Instead, there must be a valid legal theory for the objection.
Below are some common examples of acceptable grounds for which an interested person may contest a will.
Improper Execution of the Will
Unless a will is written entirely in the testator’s handwriting (also called a “holographic” will), it must meet certain requirements to be considered valid under Texas law. Typically, the will must be:
- In writing,
- Signed by the testator (the person making the will), and
- Attested to by two or more witnesses.
If the will is not properly executed, an interested person may contest the will and challenge its validity.
Lack of Testamentary Capacity
Lack of testamentary capacity is another reason for contesting a will. For a will to be valid and enforceable, the testator must have the mental capacity to understand the nature and extent of the property in their estate. They must also understand and intend to distribute their property to their beneficiaries in accordance with the will.
If there is evidence that the testator did not have the appropriate testamentary capacity when they executed the will, this may give rise to a will contest.
A will must also be executed by the testator freely without any undue influence. This might exist where someone exerts coercion, manipulation, or pressure over the testator to influence their decisions with respect to the will.
If an interested person believes the will was created because of undue influence over the testator, they may have a valid basis to contest the will.
Forgery or Fraud
Forgery and other forms of fraud are also grounds for contesting a will. For example, suppose an interested person has reason to believe that the testator’s signature on a will is forged or has been tampered with, even after proper execution. In that case, they may have reason to contest the will’s validity in court.
How Do You Contest a Will?
Contesting a will in Texas generally requires the following steps:
- Filing a petition with the appropriate probate court;
- Gathering evidence to help support your claims;
- Interviewing witnesses who may be able to testify on your behalf; and
- Attending a hearing to present your evidence and witness testimony to prove the will’s invalidity.
Contesting a will in Texas often requires extensive litigation in court. Thus, it’s important to work with an experienced probate litigation attorney with the background and resources to help you effectively contest the validity of the decedent’s will.
Massingill: Your Trusted Texas Will Contest Lawyer
Losing a loved one can be devastating, and this can be especially true when you have reason to believe that their will should be invalidated.
Whether you have discovered evidence indicating the will was procured by fraud, undue influence, or some other improper method, know that you may have a valid reason to contest the will.
At Massingill, our Texas probate attorneys have the tools, resources, and experience necessary to help you contest a will.
Although this can be a complicated legal process, we pride ourselves on simplifying the complex. Thus, when you hire our team, you can rest easier knowing your case is in great hands.
Book a consultation online or call us today to discuss your case and get started.
Where You Can Find Our Austin, Texas Office
Can You Contest a Will in Texas?
In short, the answer is, it depends. Texas law does allow individuals to contest the validity of a will in probate proceedings under certain situations.
However, this may only be done by a person interested in the proceedings. Typically, an interested person will be a family member, creditor, or other beneficiary of the deceased.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Contesting a Will in Texas?
The statute of limitations for contesting a will in Texas is two years. This means an interested person will usually have no more than two years from the date the will was admitted to probate to contest the will.
Note some exceptions may allow for additional time in limited circumstances. For example, if the interested person is contesting the will based on forgery or other fraud, they will have two years from the date the fraud or forgery was discovered, even if this comes more than two years after the date the will was admitted to probate.
Do I Have to Hire Legal Counsel to Contest a Will?
No, you do not have to hire legal counsel to contest a will in Texas. However, it’s important to note that contesting a will can be a complicated, lengthy, and often contentious legal process.
Hiring an experienced probate and estates attorney is usually advisable and can be beneficial to your case moving forward.