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The Importance of Estate Planning

A will is, in many ways, a person’s final words. It lays out their wishes for the future, including how they would like to see their assets and property distributed. It represents the individual’s voice for surviving loved ones.

How unchangeable are wills? When can a will be contested? Here’s a brief overview.

What are the grounds for contesting a will?

A person cannot contest a will just because they do not like what it contains.  In New Jersey, there are generally two common, accepted grounds for contesting a will:

  • Undue influence: The person drafting the document was pressured or coerced by someone else into including (or excluding) things or people from the will, and therefore the final document does not actually reflect their wishes.
  • Lack of testamentary capacity: The person drafting the document was not mentally competent when they created the will, and therefore did not fully understand the effect of what they were doing.

In some cases, a person may also allege that parts of the document were forged or altered, which would make the will invalid.

When must a contest must be filed?

Timing is critical in a will contest.  If you file an objection prior to the start of probate, it will initially go through Surrogate’s Court.  If you file an objection after the court has admitted the will to probate, the matter will be heard by a Superior Court judge.

State residents generally have four months from the start of probate to file a will contest.  Those outside the state have six months.

As is the case with all legal processes, these matters can quickly become complex.  There may be exceptions to some of these general rules.  Additionally, you’ll have to manage the emotions of not just yourself, but others impacted by the will contest.  With the right resources and support, however, it’s possible to help ensure a loved one’s final words ring true.

If you would like to draft estate planning documents, in order to protect your estate and your loved ones, or if you have a loved one who has recently passed away and you need advice about the administration of the estate, contact our Wills, Trusts, and Estates department for a consultation.  

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