Can I Contest My Parent’s Will in California?

Coping with the loss of a parent is difficult, but it can be even more complicated when a surviving child discovers a parent cut them out of their will. Children of a deceased parent do have the right to contest a will in a California probate court. However, a child cannot contest a will simply because the child does not like that they have been cut out of the will. Instead, the person contesting the will must prove a legally valid ground to contest the will. There are several grounds for contesting a will in California, including fraud or undue influence, incapacity, violating California law, and multiple wills. 

Knowing When to Contest Your Parent’s Will

If you are unsure whether you have a legal ground to contest your parent’s will, the best thing you can do is discuss your case with an estate planning lawyer. Under California probate law, survivors have a right to contest a trust or will under certain circumstances. As soon as the deceased individual passes away, a child can begin challenging a will. There are some time limits involved in contesting a will. Under the California probate code, if the will or trust has already been admitted to probate, the child would only have 120 days to file an objection with the probate court.

Who Can Contest a Will?

Under California probate law, only certain people have a right to contest a will. The people with the right to contest a will are referred to as interested parties. Interested parties include the following:

  • Any beneficiaries named in the trust or will
  • A deceased person’s heirs under California’s intestacy laws of succession
  • Creditors to which the decedent owed money

How to Contest a Will in California

The child who would like to contest a parents’ will must petition the court and state their legitimate legal ground, or reason, for contesting the will. Will contests can quickly become complicated, so it is best to discuss your case with a lawyer. When you discuss your case with an experienced will contest lawyer, your lawyer can help you sift through the facts of your case. They can advise you whether your case is legitimate and the benefits and negative aspects of challenging the will from a financial and emotional standpoint.

If you decide to proceed with your will contest, you will need to file a petition with the county court where your loved one resided. Your petition will state the facts of your case and the legal grounds for challenging the will. Your lawyer will begin gathering information and witnesses who can help you prove your case in court. The investigative process can take time, so it is best to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after your loved one passes away.

After you have finished the investigative process, you will begin your will contest trial. As with any other trial, you will need to present evidence and witnesses proving that the will is not legally valid under California law. Courts typically try to encourage the parties involved to try to settle out of court to avoid a trial. You may wish to attend mediation with a mediator prior to trial. You will be required to attend a mandatory settlement conference prior to trial. Your probate litigation lawyer can help you determine which legal strategy is the best option for your goals and situation.

Common Legal Reasons to Contest a Will

An experienced probate lawyer can assist you in asserting the legal claims you will need to make to contest your parent’s will. Your lawyer will be able to set forth your legal arguments and the facts of your case clearly in your petition, presenting the best case possible to the judge in court. We will discuss some of the most common reasons to contest a parent’s will below.

  • Fraud or undue influence: Many people try to take advantage of elderly individuals, those who are incapacitated, or those who are otherwise vulnerable. When one person exerts undue influence on another person, they are violating California law. If you suspect that another person or people have exerted undue influence on your loved one, you can contest the validity of the will or trust, citing undue influence or fraud as the grounds. Forgery is also an accepted ground to challenge a will.
  • Incapacity: Under California law, anyone 18 or older can create a will or trust. Courts will presume that an adult is of sound mind unless someone else can prove otherwise. If your parents had a substance abuse issue, dementia, or was otherwise incapacitated when they created the will, you can challenge the will.
  • Violating California law: California sets out multiple requirements for a valid will. If the will does not conform with these requirements, you can challenge it. 
  • Multiple wills: Many will contests involve a relative who discovers one or more earlier versions of a will. 

How Long Do I Have to Contest a Will?

Before the beneficiaries named in the will can obtain assets in the estate, the county probate court must administer the will. First, someone will file the will for probate. Next, the county probate court will schedule a hearing that sets out deadlines by which you must file your will contest petition. You will need a copy of the will before you can file your petition, but you do not need to wait for the wheel to be filed for probate before contesting it. An experienced probate lawyer can ensure that you do not miss your deadline to file a will contest petition for your parent’s will.

Discuss Your Case With a Will Contest Lawyer

At the Law Office of Daniel Hunt, our lawyers protect families and individuals like you daily. We understand that matters involving will contests are emotionally complex and challenging for many of our clients. When we meet with you, we will carefully listen to the facts of your case and your goals. After analyzing your case, we will offer you effective advice on the best strategy possible. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case with one of our skilled attorneys.

Law Offices of Daniel A. Hunt

The Law Offices of Daniel A. Hunt is a California law firm specializing in Estate Planning; Trust Administration & Litigation; Probate; and Conservatorships. We've helped over 10,000 clients find peace of mind. We serve clients throughout the greater Sacramento region and the state of California.