Can I Contest a Will in Scottsdale?
A will represents an important part of a person’s legacy and helps ensure that his or her last wishes are carried out after death. Unfortunately, there are times when grieving family members or other heirs run into disputes or uncertainty over the validity of a decedent’s will, making a painful situation quickly escalate from bad to worse. If you suspect that your loved one’s will is invalid or does not accurately reflect his or her true intentions, you may have grounds to contest the will in an Arizona probate court.
It’s understandable to be concerned about honoring a loved one’s final requests and receiving your potential inheritance. The Scottsdale contested wills and probate lawyers at Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC can help you during this difficult time.
For more than 20 years, our experienced and empathetic legal team has helped thousands of Arizonans to resolve a wide variety of estate litigation matters. If you are in need of a skilled contested will lawyer in Scottsdale, Phoenix, Chandler or Tucson, schedule a free consultation by calling or filling out an online contact form today.
Understanding Arizona Will and Probate Laws
Under Arizona law, a will is not considered valid unless it meets certain lawful criteria. The process for validating a will and then distributing estate assets accordingly is called probate.
During probate, a civil court reviews a will and its contents to make sure it was prepared appropriately and that the Personal Representative (Executor) nominated by the decedent is valid. The court will then approve both the will and the appointment of the Personal Representative through an informal probate process. If there are no contests to the will, the informal probate can proceed, which allows the administration of the estate and distribution of assets to proceed with very little court supervision.
When potential beneficiaries contest a will or a judge suspects that it may be invalid, it’s likely that the judge will order a formal probate process. During formal probate, the court investigates the validity of a will and monitors asset distribution more closely.
Even if informal probate proceedings have already been initiated, eligible individuals have the right to challenge a will in court and force a formal probate if they suspect the presence of certain elements, such as:
- A lack of testamentary capacity, or mental understanding, on behalf of the will-maker during the preparation of the current will
- Undue influence from family members, friends, or other agents seeking to exploit the decedent’s finances
- A breach of fiduciary duty or responsibility on behalf of the named Personal Representative (Executor), who has a duty to handle the estate fairly and competently
- Improper preparation, fraud, missing signatures on behalf of the will-maker, forgery, or a lack of proper witness signatures
- The existence of an alternative will that was created after the original document
- Intestate succession conflicts, if the person died without a will
How to Contest a Will
Contesting a will is a difficult process that can’t be carried out simply because interested parties are dissatisfied with the contents of the document. The last wishes of the deceased carry a lot of weight in court, so trying to invalidate the court’s initial understanding of those wishes requires a strong case with solid evidence.
If you are unsure of whether you have a case, your best option is to contact an experienced Arizona contested wills attorney. At Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC, we can evaluate your case in a free consultation to determine whether you have legal standing to challenge the decedent’s will.
A lawyer will:
- Review the will: The first thing to do is determine whether you are entitled to inherit. In some cases, a will contains language that disqualifies certain people from inheriting.
- File a petition in court: With the help of your lawyer, you can file a petition with the probate court as notice of your intent to challenge the will. All other interested parties will also be notified of your action.
- Collect evidence to support your claim: Proving that a will is invalid requires strong proof, such as documentation of an alternate version of the will or witness statements showing that the decedent was not of sound mind when the will was signed. A skilled lawyer will determine what you need to successfully challenge the will based on the facts of the case.
- Present the evidence in a hearing: The court will hear the case to determine whether your case has merit. If you succeed, the existing will is invalidated and the court will appoint an administrator to distribute the estate to heirs.
What Are My Rights for Contesting a Will?
Under Arizona law, only “interested parties” have legal standing to challenge the validity of a will. Interested parties may include:
- The personal representative or executor of an estate
- Any trustees or beneficiaries of the estate
- Spouses, biological or adopted children, and other close family members
- Any person who could reasonably expect to inherit from a person’s estate, such as omitted beneficiaries who were named in previous versions of a will
- Creditors of the decedent’s estate
If you do have grounds to challenge a will as an interested party, it’s also important to keep in mind that several legal time limits may impact your ability to successfully contest the will. A lawyer can ensure that you file within the statute(s) of limitations.
How to Prove the Will Is Not Valid
To support your will contest claim, a knowledgeable estate litigation attorney in Scottsdale, AZ can help you gather a variety of evidence, such as:
- Testimony from witnesses who knew the will-maker personally, such as a friend, caregiver, or someone who helped the decedent prepare the will before death
- Any documents, such as journal entries, that shed light on the will-maker’s true state of mind or intentions prior to the preparation of the will
- Old signatures or handwriting samples to demonstrate possible fraud or forgery
- Previous versions of a will, which may show significant deviations from the contents of a currently accepted will
- Medical records or other evidence of the will-maker’s lack of mental or legal capacity to prepare a will appropriately
What Can Make a Will Lose Validity?
To be considered valid, wills prepared in the state of Arizona must meet certain drafting and preparation criteria. If any of the following elements are present, a will may lose validity in the eyes of the court:
- A superseding or alternate version of the will, which could replace the original if it is properly drafted and signed
- A lack of proper witnesses or signatures, both of which are required for a will to be considered valid
- A lack of testamentary capacity on behalf of the will-maker, who must have been at least 18 years old and must have had the mental capacity to understand the implications of his or her actions during the preparation of the will
- Proof that indicates the decedent was coerced or manipulated into signing a will that did not reflect his or her true intentions
There are a few other instances in which a legal challenge to a will’s validity may be appropriate, even if the will was otherwise prepared properly. If a will was prepared before a significant life event, such as a marriage, remarriage, or the birth of a child, the will may be contested based on the grounds that it does not provide for appropriate beneficiaries like spouses or children.
Do I Need an Estate Litigation Lawyer in Scottsdale to Contest a Will?
If you believe that you are the rightful beneficiary of a will that does not adequately provide for your inheritance, it’s a good idea to seek the assistance of a qualified estate litigation attorney in Scottsdale, AZ without delay. Arizona estate law is complicated enough on its own, and the family disputes that often arise from will contests can create painful divisions that can be resolved more peacefully with an attorney’s guidance.
Contact a trusted lawyer at Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC today. Our attorneys offer a compassionate, personalized approach to will and estate matters. We pride ourselves on taking the time to get to know you and your situation, no matter how challenging, to ensure you get the representation and advocacy you need.
Questions? Reach out to arrange your free consultation. Call or contact us today.