Contesting a will is a topic that a lot of people have questions about. Will contests are popularly used in films, books, and television as plot devices, but the reality is often a lot different than the fictional portrayal. Today we are going to look more closely at will contests in Florida, what they are, how they work, and what you need to know about them.
As a general rule of thumb, complicated legal issues such as will challenges are not always easily explained in a simply blog post. This is doubly important if you are currently involved in a will contest or are considering one. Always talk to your estate planning attorney any time you have a question or concern about legal issues.
Contesting a Will in Florida: Standing
The idea of standing is essential to any will contest. In order to challenge a will, the petitioner (the person filing the lawsuit) has to have standing. If a petitioner fails to prove standing, a court will throw the will challenge out of court without considering its merits.
In order to have standing to challenge a will, you have to meet one of three basic conditions: you must stand to inherit from the will, you must have stood to inherit from a previous will, or you must stand to inherit if there is no will.
This basically means that unless you can show that you will, or otherwise would have, inherited from the decedent, you do not have standing to challenge a will.
Contesting a Will in Florida: Grounds
Having standing to contest a will is necessary, but no sufficient, to proceed with a will contest. This means that while you have to have standing, you also have to be able to show grounds. Having grounds simple means that you have a legally recognized reason for challenging the validity of the will. Just as you cannot simply decide to challenge some stranger’s will, you cannot decide to challenge a will just because you don’t like it’s terms, or what it states.
For example, let’s say that your grandfather decided to leave most of his inheritance to his church. You and your grandfather’s other grandchildren each received an equal inheritance, but the bulk of the estate your grandfather left went to the church. Can you challenge a will because you believe you are entitled to more?
No. Being unhappy with the terms of the will is not a legally recognized grounds for a challenge. While you may not be happy with the outcome, you have to have a better reason.
While there are a number of legally recognized grounds for a will contest, some of the most common include: the testator lacked a sound mind at the time of making the will, the testator was capable but coerced, and the will does not meet the legal requirements imposed under Florida law.
Contesting a Will in Florida: No Contest Clauses
In some situations a testator will write a will that includes a “no contest” clause. This is a clause that essentially states that anyone who decides to challenge the will’s validity will lose any inheritances he or she might have received.
While no contest clauses are valid in some states, Florida does not recognize them.
Contesting a Will in Florida: The Process
The will contest process is very much like any other probate lawsuit or estate litigation case. First, someone must decide to file a lawsuit. Second, that person will have to file the appropriate documents (called a petition) with the appropriate court. Third, the court will have to determine the merits of the lawsuit and make a ruling after it considers the evidence at a hearing.
Of course, this is only the most cursory of descriptions of the will challenge process. There are many more steps and requirements involved in even the simplest will litigation case, which your attorney can explain to you in more detail.
Contesting a Will in Florida: Understanding Your Options
While we’ve discussed some of the basic ideas surrounding will contests in Florida, we’ve only really scratched the surface. Any will contest can be unexpectedly complicated, relying on not only state laws and legal requirements, but court decisions that can, at any moment, change how those laws apply and how they’re interpreted. Only an experienced attorney can tell you whether your will challenge is a good idea, and what potential outcomes you might hope to achieve. If you are considering a will challenge or need more information, please contact us at your earliest convenience so we can discuss it with you.