Contesting a Will

A will contest is a petition to the court used to verify the validity of a will. Legal grounds for contesting a will include concerns over the testator’s capacity, disagreements with the provisions of the will, and fraud.

Seeking legal support as early as possible in the process will ensure that your will contest is valid and aligned with the necessary legal procedures. Our team here at RMO can provide you with valuable guidance for added peace of mind and a better outcome.


What Does Contesting a Will Mean?

Contesting a will means filing a petition to raise a concern about its terms, validity, or intentions before the court. These contests often resolve a lack of clarity, invalidate unjust portions of a will, or invalidate the will entirely.   

One cannot contest a will simply because he/she doesn’t like what it says. Instead, to dispute a will, it is necessary to have legal grounds to challenge the will’s validity. 

The most common reasons to contest a will are outlined below:

  • The will was drafted or executed incorrectly
  • An heir or beneficiary was disinherited
  • You suspect fraud or forgery of the will
  • You suspect undue influence or lack of capacity

To raise a will contest, parties must act within a specified time limit to notify all others with an interest in the will and take action to express their concerns to the court. A qualified attorney can represent interested parties during the contest process while ensuring they follow the appropriate legal procedures.

What Does Contesting a Will Entail?

Contesting a will involves several steps, from gathering important case facts and considering if you have a valid claim to initiating court proceedings. RMO Lawyers has experience in all the following aspects involved in contesting a will.

Gathering Documents and Facts

Initiating a will contest requires gathering evidence to justify the contest. One may start by obtaining a copy of the disputed will and all former or alternative versions of it. A thorough review is necessary to see what changes may have been made. One should gather any documentation suggesting that the deceased was not of sound mind, was unduly influenced, or was the victim of fraud or forgery when creating the version of the will that is being disputed. RMO Lawyers can offer guidance to ensure you have a valid contest.

Initiating the Contestation Process

After that process, the next step is to notify the personal representative of the dispute and file a formal claim with the court. It’s important to note that parties must initiate the process as soon as possible to establish a legitimate contest since contests must be initiated in a specified amount of time in both California and Texas. RMO Lawyers can help you take the appropriate steps to begin the process.

Court Proceedings & Considering Mediation

Depending on the nature of the dispute, a contest may need to go to court. Legal representation is paramount in this process for securing the best possible outcome. RMO Lawyers can assist clients in navigating court proceedings and pursuing alternative dispute resolutions like mediation. 

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution method conducted outside of court. A trained mediator, often a retired probate judge, facilitates the mediation session to assist parties in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement. This process not only resolves the will contest but also offers an opportunity for parties to heal and possibly repair relationships, allowing them to move forward.

The Role of Legal Counsel

Legal counsel from experienced estate litigation lawyers can provide necessary guidance in legal processes, representation in disputes, and answer any questions along the way. RMO Lawyers offers legal support to provide clients with more peace of mind and increase the chances of a favorable outcome.

Costs Involved in Contesting a Will

Some of the costs involved include legal and court fees and other expenses.  It is important to be prepared for a potentially lengthy and costly legal battle. While you may have a valid claim and ultimately succeed, it’s important to acknowledge that resolving the case in your favor could take anywhere from several months to several years. During a free consultation, our lawyers at RMO can outline the potential costs and help you decide the best path forward so you can understand the financial implications and plan accordingly.

What Happens if You Contest a Will and Win

If you successfully contest a will, the distribution of the decedent’s assets follows the instructions laid out in any previously valid estate planning documents they had. In the absence of such documents, the assets generally pass to the decedent’s heirs through intestate succession. Typically, this means the surviving spouse and children inherit, and if there are none, priority goes to the siblings and parents of the decedent.

Common Will Contesting Scenarios

A will contest can involve several possible scenarios depending on the nature of the concern. Our attorneys at RMO will use our two decades of experience to provide guidance in all the following scenarios.

Unfair Exclusions

Heirs to a will may raise concerns over being unjustly excluded from assets in the will despite having a right to receive them. Our attorneys will work to understand the nature of the exclusion and initiate a contest to bring about the appropriate resolution for securing these rights.

Undue Influence

Undue influence may arise if someone influences a testator to change the terms of a will against their initial intentions. RMO Lawyers represents beneficiaries in cases of undue influence to ensure that they receive access to their rightful inheritance in line with the testator’s true wishes.

Lack of Capacity

A lack of capacity warrants a will contest if a testator, executor, or administrator did not have the mental capacity to create or execute the will at the time of its creation—this can prevent heirs and beneficiaries from receiving their rightful inheritance.

Our lawyers at RMO will seek evidence to substantiate claims of lack of capacity and seek a resolution to secure the best possible outcome for any affected heirs or beneficiaries.

Forgery and Fraud

Forgery and fraud are two common ways that bad actors can tarnish the interests of the testator or decedent. Our will contest attorneys will take steps to identify signs of forgery and fraud and, if necessary, take legal action to amend the will so it is in line with the testator’s intentions.

Ambiguous Wording

Ambiguous, vague, or unclear wording in a will can leave the terms and distributions outlined by it open to misinterpretation. RMO Lawyers will work to understand the intentions of the will’s creator and interpret the wording effectively before laying out appropriate next steps that satisfy these interests.

Inadequate Provision

Beneficiaries or heirs may disagree with the provision of assets designated for them as outlined in the will, especially if they feel their relationship to the testator warrants a greater entitlement. Our attorneys at RMO can help determine if a party has standing to contest and represent them in the process.

Mistakes in Creating or Executing the Will

Mistakes in creating or executing a will can significantly increase the likelihood of a will contest. Errors such as ambiguous language, lack of witnesses, or failure to adhere to legal formalities can create doubts about the validity of the will. The attorneys at RMO can help you determine the validity of your claim based on the types of mistakes that may have been made. 

When Should I Contact An Attorney For Contesting a Will?

Contesting a will is complex and requires a detailed legal process as well as an understanding of the appropriate steps. A will contest attorney can be a valuable resource in helping you navigate this process and bring about a fair resolution that upholds the interests of the decedent.

You should contact an attorney when:

  • You are unsure if you have grounds for a will contest
  • You suspect elder abuse or undue influence
  • You suspect fraud or forgery in the process of creating the will
  • Terms of a will are ambiguous or unclear
  • You believe a mistake occurred when creating or executing the will 

Ultimately, if you have any questions surrounding a will contest, schedule a consultation with us here at RMO Lawyers. With two decades of experience in trust and probate matters, we can provide you with answers, bring you peace of mind, and help you secure the best possible outcome.

Our Case Results

RMO has a proven track record of protecting people and defending legacies.

Summary Adjudication of Disinherited Beneficiary’s Trust Contest
Swiftly secured the dismissal of a trust contest of a disgruntled, disinherited trust beneficiary on a motion after strategically allowing the trust contest period to expire before serving a notice of proposed action to distribute trust assets to the trust’s remaining beneficiaries and nothing to the disinherited beneficiary.
Secured Family’s Business Legacy
Representing the successor family trustee, secured the generational family business for the decedent’s heirs by acquiring from a disgruntled beneficiary their interest in the family business on extremely favorable terms that will allow the family to continue operating the family business for future generations to come.
Defense of Financial Elder Abuse Claim Against Surviving Spouse Trustee
Successfully defended a surviving spouse trustee against financial elder abuse and other claims made by family members who said she had fraudulently transferred assets to herself from her late husband’s trust and estate.
Prevented Trustee Removal for Badly-Lawyered Trust Accounting
Staved off suspension, removal and surcharge for a trustee who had failed to properly or timely provide court-ordered trust accountings to trust beneficiaries and was staring down an imminent deadline, as well as suspension, removal and surcharge.
Trustee Removal for Fraud
Neutralized and secured removal of a hostile co-trustee who was attempting to bilk our client’s trust of millions of dollars through a series of fabricated claims.
Thieving Trustee Removed and Surcharged
Secured removal of a thieving co-trustee daughter whose malfeasance left her own mother destitute and unable to pay her bills, including recovery of the stolen assets, attorney fees and costs.
Trust Beneficiary Dispute Squashed & Partition Avoided
Swooped in on behalf of an institutional trustee after years of protracted litigation to secure a decision from the Los Angeles probate court to end a years-long dispute between feuding siblings over the distribution of their parents’ estate, avoiding distribution of assets in-kind, which would have only resulted in partition.
Sub-Trust Allocations Defended
Client’s mother survived step-dad and succeeded him as trustee of their family trust. After mom passed, step-dad’s children alleged she had improperly allocated trust assets to favor her survivor’s trust, which went to our client, over the marital trust, which went to step-dad’s children. Using historic appraisals and valuations, demonstrated the disputed allocation was reasonable, resolving the dispute.
Inept Trustee Removed & Client Appointed Successor Trustee to Save Estate
Non-responsive and ineffective trustee who had done little to nothing to administer the trust or protect trust assets from waste following decedent’s passing was removed and our client appointed as successor trustee by the probate court, avoiding further damage.
Racist Trustee Removed and Surcharged
Removed and obtained surcharge of a non-beneficiary family trustee who hurled racial epthets at our client, refused to account, and tried to sell the house intended for our sole trust beneficiary client out of spite, securing the home for our client and her family.
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Who Can Hire An Attorney For Contesting a Will?

Any interested party with standing may contest a will. An interested party is anyone who stands to gain or lose something in the litigation at hand. Usually, interested parties are limited to family members and named beneficiaries in the contested version of the will or prior versions of it. At RMO, we work with all the following clients to bring about the best possible outcomes for each of them.


Beneficiaries may raise a will contest for a variety of reasons, like if they feel their entitlement to assets is inadequate or suspect that the will has been compromised by fraud or undue influence. An intended beneficiary whose interests have been changed or eliminated under an updated will can also bring a claim. Our attorneys can support beneficiaries in raising a will contest and navigating the process to ensure the integrity of the will and secure their rights.


Heirs may raise a will contest if they feel they deserve a greater share of an estate’s assets, believe that they have been unfairly excluded from a will, or the will was created with undue influence. Our lawyers will support heirs in finding evidence behind these claims and navigating the dispute process to secure their rights.


Executors and administrators have an important role in administrating wills. They may also find themselves at the center of a contest if they are suspected of wrongdoing. We work with executors or administrators to navigate the will contest process or defend against any accusations.


If a will contest centers around the actions of an executor, like a breach of fiduciary duty, a successor executor may raise a contest before taking their place. RMO Lawyers will help successor executors ensure they have standing and navigate the legal processes involved with filing a contest.


Be advised that the RMO Client Relations Team will reach out prior to your scheduled time, as our policy requires that we gather additional information concerning the parties to your case before we can confirm your consultation. In the event that we are unable to reach you, regrettably, we will need to cancel your requested consultation.

Communication Disclaimer

Please note that communications by you to RMO LLP or any of its lawyers through this website do not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm. Do not send any privileged or confidential information to the firm through this website or otherwise until instructed in writing from us to do so. 

FAQs About Will Contests

Contesting a will can place significant strain on all parties involved in the dispute, yet there are instances where it is worthwhile. However, due to the potential months-long duration of the court processes required for a successful challenge, there are situations where contesting a will would not be advantageous. As each will contest is unique, the costs associated with challenging a will vary depending on the specific circumstances of your case. 

Most will contests entail substantial legal fees, with probate litigation attorney retainers generally ranging between $10,000 and $25,000. One should consider the cost of hiring a will contest attorney as an investment in what they are entitled to receive should they win their will contest case. Schedule a free consult with RMO Lawyers, and we may be able to tell you if we believe your case is worth pursuing.

Read the full article.

A no contest clause is a provision in a will or trust that penalizes beneficiaries if they challenge the document’s validity or certain provisions within it. Essentially, its purpose is to serve as a safeguard against disputes among beneficiaries over the estate. These clauses typically state that if a beneficiary contests the will or trust and loses, they forfeit any gift they would otherwise receive according to the provisions of the will or trust.

The presence of a no contest clause can significantly influence the dynamics of trust and estate litigation. Beneficiaries may think twice before challenging the validity of a will or trust if they risk losing their inheritance as a result. This can lead to fewer disputes and faster resolution of estate matters, ultimately saving time and resources for all parties involved.

However, the existence of a no contest clause does not guarantee immunity from challenges. If beneficiaries believe they have legitimate reasons to contest the document, they may still pursue legal action despite the potential consequences. In such cases, courts will carefully weigh the evidence and arguments presented before making a determination. If you are contesting a will or defending a will contest due to a no contest clause, contact RMO Lawyers to discuss your case.

A handwritten will is often referred to as a holographic will. A holographic will is a will that is entirely handwritten and signed by the testator, the person making the will, but may not be witnessed. In some jurisdictions, holographic wills are recognized as valid even if they do not meet the formal requirements of traditional typed or printed wills, such as having witnesses present during signing. 

In California and Texas, for a holographic will to be considered, it must:

  • Be clear that the testator intended the document to serve as their will
  • The testator had testamentary capacity when they created the will
  • The material portions or entire will must be in the testator handwriting 
  • The testator must have signed it

You can contest a handwritten or holographic will, as outlined above. In many cases, it may be easier to win will contests with a holographic will based on its informality, including lack of witnesses. 

Laws regarding holographic wills vary by jurisdiction. It’s important to consult with an attorney in your jurisdiction to consider the facts. 


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