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Challenging a will can be a daunting task, but California residents that believe they have a valid claim may be able to successfully contest a will. Nationwide, 99 percent of all wills pass through probate without problems arising. Probate courts generally stick pretty closely to what the will says since it represents the last wishes of the deceased person.

When a will is contested, the most successful challenges are from spouses that claim that the deceased person lacked the testamentary capability to execute a will while he or she was living or was strongly influenced to write the will a certain way. Successful will challenges can void a will either partially or totally. If the will is totally voided, the court will distribute the property as if the will never existed.

Testamentary capacity refers to a person’s mental state. If someone has dementia or is senile or insane, he or she may not have the ability to understand what he or she is doing. Any person making a will must understand the extent and value of his or her assets, who his or her beneficiaries should be and what a will means. If the will is a forgery or written while under undue influence, it can be challenged. Old wills should be destroyed after being updated, or the court could replace it with a newer will.

If heirs believe they have been slighted, they may want to contest a will. Challenging a will can be complicated, so they may wish to consult with a probate attorney that may be able to tell them if their claim meets eligibility criteria. A lawyer may be able to represent them during the estate litigation process.