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Can Estranged Family Members Contest a Will? What You Need to Know

What happens if an estranged family member wants to contest a will? Are they legally allowed to? What does the process look like? T&W explains.

Although it’s unfortunate, families sometimes come into conflict over an estate. This is especially true when someone is left out from the inheritance plan, and when the size of the estate is significant enough to fight over. No one plans to create strife with their estate plan, but what happens if an estranged family member wants to contest a will? Are they within their legal rights to do so? Trust and Will explores what you can do if you have any estranged family members, and how to prevent will contesting from happening.

What Does “Estranged Family” Mean?

“Estranged family” is the term used to describe an individual who no longer has an existing relationship with the rest of their family. This could be through physical or emotional distancing, or both. Oftentimes, there is a loss of contact between estranged family members over a sustained period of time.

Family estrangement can happen to anyone. It can happen between siblings, parents and their children, and amongst other relatives. Estrangement manifests itself in many different ways, such as loss of contact, physical or emotional absence, or even violence and hostility.

There are many reasons why a family member could become estranged. For instance, a child could distance themselves from their parents due to emotional abuse. In another example, two siblings could stop speaking due to differing value systems. Regardless of the reason, having an estranged family can be a painful experience for everyone involved.

If you have an estranged member of your family, it is definitely something to consider when planning your estate. This is because there is a risk that someone will contest your will, especially if you do not plan to include them in your estate. Although not including someone in your inheritance is valid and justified, it’s important to know how to protect yourself. 

Can an Estranged Family Member Contest a Will?

Yes, an estranged family member can contest a will. This is the short answer, but in reality, the process of contesting a will can be lengthy and difficult.

When an individual passes away, their estate passes through probate. The probate court examines the deceased person’s estate, pays off debts, and determines how the remaining estate should be distributed. 

At this time, an estranged family member can come forward and ask the court to determine whether they’re entitled to any part of the estate. Typically, only those who qualify as heirs according to state law can contest a will. Although this varies from state to state, it’s typically the spouse and children. In other words, an estranged child can come forward and contest a will in the right circumstances. A stepchild may come forward only if previous versions of a will named them, or if they were formally adopted by the deceased. 

It should be noted that estranged family members cannot contest a will until the court opens the probate case. The time limit ranges from state to state, but can last anywhere between a few weeks up to several years. In other words, the timeline for contesting a will varies by state but must fall within the duration that the estate is in probate.

Trust & Will now offers probate help. Learn more about our different plan option, today.

If you’d like to know more about the process of contesting a will, visit our guide here. We also have a guide for those who just found out that they were left out of a will. Otherwise, keep reading to find out how to prevent someone from contesting a will in your family.

How Can I Stop My Family from Contesting My Will?

The key to preventing estranged family members from contesting your will is to make it as airtight as possible. Before you get started, it’s helpful to understand the common reasons why a will could be contested in the first place:

  • The will doesn’t comply with certain state requirements, such as the correct number of witnesses or witness signatures.

  • The author of the will was mentally capacitated at the time they wrote it.

  • There is a newer version of the will available.

  • The will was forged or tampered with.

  • The author of the will was manipulated or forced to write the will in a certain way.

Understanding the above points will help you avoid common pitfalls that could call the validity of a will into question. First and foremost, make sure that you’re complying with any state-specific requirements. Then, arrange to have several witnesses watch you write and sign the will. This is an important step to prove that you were not manipulated in any way. 

You could also consider including a no-contest clause in your will. This is a clause that states that if anyone contests the will, and loses, will lose everything they would have otherwise inherited. This creates an incentive for family members to not contest the will.

Once you finish writing your will, it’s helpful to have an open and honest conversation with your family about your plans. That way, everyone is on the same page about expectations, with no surprises. It will also give them the opportunity to air out any grievances that could be ironed out. Having this discussion will provide evidence that you wrote the will with clear intent and mental clarity. 

Create Your Will Today

The best possible way to create an airtight will is to work with an estate planning attorney or professional estate planning service. That way, you can proactively get ahead of any challenges. This is especially true if you have any estranged family members who you think might contest a will

There is no such thing as a perfect family. Each family has different dynamics and nuances, and at times, tensions don’t even arise until after someone has passed away. Regardless of whether or not you have an estranged family member, another reason to create an airtight will is to prevent any stress, confusion, and strife amongst your loved ones. 

At Trust & Will, we make it easy for you to create a will. In fact, our plans start at just $199, and you could create a will within 15 minutes from the comfort of your home. Better yet, our wills are customized specific to the state you live in, to further ensure that your estate plan holds up to your state-specific rules. That way, you’re minimizing the risk of a family member contesting your will. 

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Reach out to us today or Chat with a live member support representative!