What does it mean to contest a Will?
Probate litigation or (contest a will) is there to provide a method of resolution for any issues which may arise amongst families when a loved one dies. Sometimes contested matters do not involve animosity between parties, but most of the time they definitely do. Many matters handled by probate courts in New Jersey and elsewhere, such as admitting wills to probate and appointing executors, are routine and not contested. Routine probate matters can be handled very efficiently. Where people run into problems is when they disagree as to whether a particular Will should be used or whether the distribution is fair. Sometimes that disagreement is not adequately resolved by the family, and sometimes there is a need to escalate things further.
When a person’s death raises issues among other family members that they cannot resolve diplomatically amongst themselves, the matter can sometimes be contested in court, and it will need to be resolved using the court system. Probate litigation has features of both a probate proceeding and a civil lawsuit. If an individual or individuals have a matter they would like to contest, a probate judge will review the claim. From there the case proceeds as does any other piece of litigation – discovery, witnesses, trials, and so on. It gets expensive, complicated, and emotional very quickly.
I can tell you for certain that in the case of a Will contest or other proceeding involving a Will, there is only one winner – the lawyers. The beneficiaries pay a large amount of legal fees, they end up destroying any family relationship that might have otherwise existed, and the lawyers put another wing on their house. As I tell my clients all the time, this is not the right result, and we need to take steps to avoid it. A good, solid estate plan can minimize the risk of future litigation and the distribution of assets to unintended beneficiaries (like me).
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