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Challenging wills in California

Will contests in California are difficult. It is rare for challenges to wills to be successful because the probate courts view the documents as representing the voice and wishes of the testator. There are some valid grounds on which will contests may be based and that may result in a will's being declared invalid, however.

Any person who has an interest to gain by challenging a will is allowed to contest it. In general, spouses who challenge wills are the likeliest parties to prevail. The grounds that are most likely to be successful are that the testator lacked the mental capacity at the time he or she wrote the will or that the testator was coerced or unduly influenced by another who stood to gain.

People must be at least 18 to have the testamentary capacity to write valid wills. There are exceptions in some cases for people who are serving in the military before they are 18 or who are married. For adults, the presumption is that they have the testamentary capacity. It can be challenged on the basis of insanity, dementia, senility, being under the influence or some other factor that diminished the person's capacity. To prove undue influence, family members must show that another person manipulated the testator into writing the will.

If the court finds that a will is invalid, the document will be disregarded. The assets will then be divided according to the state's laws regarding intestacy. People who believe that their loved ones' wills are invalid might want to consult with experienced probate lawyers who can advise their clients about whether or not they appear to have valid grounds to challenge the wills and help them to gather evidence if they do.

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