New Jersey Will Contest Attorneys
Will Contest Lawyers in Bergen County, NJ Advocate on Behalf of Clients in Passaic County, Essex County, and Throughout New York, including Queens County, Nassau County, and NYC
Unfortunately, the death of a loved one sometimes has the potential to cause significant strife among family members over who will manage the decedent’s estate and who is entitled to inherit from the estate. These disputes can lead to a formal will contest during probate. If you are considering filing a will contest or a family member has filed a will contest when you have brought your loved one’s will to probate, the New Jersey will contest attorneys at the Choi Law Firm can help advocate for your rights. Since 2005, we have served as trusted legal advisors to clients throughout North Jersey and New York City. Our track record of success is reflected in our clients’ referrals of our firm to others who need exceptional legal assistance.
If you need to contest the validity of a will to protect your rights to your inheritance, or if you are the executor or administrator of an estate facing a will contest from a potential heir, you need seasoned legal representation to help you advocate for your rights and interests. Contact the Choi Law Firm for a confidential consultation to discuss your legal options with our knowledgeable New Jersey will contest attorneys.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Will Contest?
- Probate Litigation and Will Contest Matters Our New Jersey Will Contest Attorneys Can Help You With
- Types of Cases That Our Experienced New Jersey Will Contest Attorneys Can Help You With
- ‘Undue Influence’ Explained
- More on ‘Lack of Capacity’
- Contact The Choi Law Firm for a Confidential Consultation to Speak with Our New Jersey Will Contest Attorneys About Your Legal Options
- Frequently Asked Questions About Will Contests in New Jersey
What Is a Will Contest?
A will contest is a legal proceeding that involves a formal challenge to the validity of a will being offered for probate. In a will contest, an interested party (usually a named beneficiary will or an heir of the decedent under state law) alleges that the will being offered does not reflect the decedent’s true intent at the time of their death or that the decedent lacked the legal capacity to make the will. A will contest may seek to invalidate the will being offered for probate so that the decedent will be declared intestate (or having died without a will), or the contest may seek to offer up another purported will as the decedent’s true last will and testament.
Probate Litigation and Will Contest Matters Our New Jersey Will Contest Attorneys Can Help You With
By definition, the choice of whether or not to contest a last will and testament comes at the worst possible time—when a loved one has died. True, everyone has the right to dispose of his or her property as they wish, without consideration for the wishes of family, friends, or anyone else. In New Jersey, no one (except a surviving spouse) is automatically “entitled” to receive anything from a family member or parent. However, when family members receive surprising—and often heartbreaking—news that they have been frozen out of a will, suspicion often lingers that someone close to the decedent “played dirty” and managed to exercise undue influence and coercion to pressure the decedent into signing a will that failed to reflect his or her true intentions.
Sometimes a family has concerns about the probate process or the circumstances surrounding the creation of a will or trust. Frequent grounds to bring a will contest include undue influence, insufficient capacity to execute a will, failure to follow the formal requirements necessary to create a will, deception, fraud, power-of-attorney abuse, or a conflict of interest. In the simplest of terms, a will contest is a challenge to the validity of a will. Not just anyone can file a lawsuit with this aim in mind; in order to bring a will contest, one needs to have “standing,” or the right to challenge it, and there are three common scenarios.
To begin, anyone named on the face of a will has the right to file a will contest. Second, anyone who would have had an interest in a testator’s estate if no will existed also has the standing to challenge a will. Third, anyone who was named in a previous will also has the right to challenge a new will if it takes away or reduces that person’s share of the estate. Usually, the person filing the will contest bears the burden of proof—which requires the proper strategy from the outset—but in some cases, there is a presumption in favor of that person.
At our firm, we handle will contests on behalf of disinherited or under-inherited relatives when there is a legitimate claim of fraud, undue influence, or mental incompetency. These discussions are frequently heated and emotionally charged, necessitating compassion and strategic planning. Many will contests settle out of court, but at our firm, we prepare every case as if it is going to trial. Fortunately, if a will or trust was executed under suspicious circumstances, there is a remedy in the courts if it is approached in the right way.
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Types of Cases That Our Experienced New Jersey Will Contest Attorneys Can Help You With
Examples of the types of will contests that our firm can help you with include:
- Claims of undue influence – A will contest based on a claim of undue influence alleges that someone used a position of power or trust over the decedent to induce the decedent to change their will in such a way that benefits the person exerting the influence, or to make changes that the decedent would not have made to their will in the absence of undue influence.
- Claims of coercion/duress – Coercion or duress occurs when a testator is subjected to a threat of harm to themselves or another, which causes the testator to include provisions in their will that they otherwise would not have.
- Claims of fraud – A will may be procured by fraud if a party made knowingly false or misleading statements to a testator to induce them to write or change their will to benefit the party making the statement.
- Forged wills – A party may also contest a will by alleging that the decedent’s signature was forged.
- Lack of testamentary capacity – A will may be challenged on grounds that the decedent lacked testamentary capacity at the time they executed the will, and did not later regain testamentary capacity and affirm the will. Testamentary capacity requires understanding the nature of one’s property, knowing who the property will be left to, and appreciating the consequences of the will.
- Improperly executed will – The validity of a will may also be challenged on grounds that it was not properly executed under state law. This may also include will contests where the original will was lost.
- Superseded wills – A will contest may also be filed if an interested party presents a document that they claim was a will that was properly executed by the decedent at some time after the will was offered for probate, such that the second will should be accepted as the decedent’s last will and testament.
‘Undue Influence’ Explained
Undue influence is defined as coercion or domination by a person, whether moral, physical, or mental, that destroys a testator’s free agency by influencing the testator such that he or she is prevented from following what his or her own mind dictates. Undue influence, if proven, is a basis to overturn a will. The burden of proving undue influence lies with whoever brings the will contest except when a will benefits someone who stood in a confidential relationship to the testator, and suspicious circumstances exist (i.e., an elderly relative leaving everything to one person who was a primary caretaker). A confidential relationship exists when a testator’s weakness makes him or her dependent on the party exerting the influence, or when the parties have a relationship in which there is actual reliance or there naturally would be reliance. If both a confidential relationship and suspicious circumstances exist, then the burden of proof will shift from the person challenging the will to the person who was in the confidential relationship to prove that there was no undue influence. This shifting of the burden of proof is a powerful tool.
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More on ‘Lack of Capacity’
Another basis for a will contest exists when someone did not have the capacity to execute a will because of mental incapacity, illness, or extreme age. In New Jersey, the test of whether someone has testamentary capacity is whether the testator is able to understand certain fundamental facts: (1) the nature and scale of the property of which he or she is disposing, (2) the identity of family members who would be the natural recipients, (3) the testator’s relationship to the people who would usually be expected to inherit, and (4) the meaning of what the testator is doing. To overcome the presumption of testamentary capacity in a will contest, our New Jersey will contest attorneys will need to present clear and convincing evidence of incapacity to the Court. This is a heavy burden to overcome and one that requires a meticulous investigation of all potential evidence from all potential sources.
When a testator has made a will that does not reflect his or her true intentions because it is the result of elder abuse, undue influence, power-of-attorney abuse, or other exploitation, that testator probably requires the appointment of a guardian to prevent future abuse or exploitation. If such untoward actions are not discovered until after the decedent has passed away and the will is admitted into probate—as is often the case—the law limits the time in which a will contest must be commenced. The reasons underlying an estate dispute vary. Sibling rivalries, subsequent marriages, ambiguous estate planning documents, and self-dealing by an executor are often at play. Regardless of the reason, swift action is required, and our dedicated will contest lawyers in Bergen County, NJ can help.
Contact The Choi Law Firm for a Confidential Consultation to Speak with Our New Jersey Will Contest Attorneys About Your Legal Options
When your rights in an estate may be on the line, you need legal advocacy from the experienced Will Contest Lawyers in Bergen County, NJ at the Choi Law Firm. We help people in Bergen County, Passaic County, Essex County, Queens County, Nassau County, and all over North Jersey and NYC. Reach out to our firm today for an initial case review to see how we can protect your interests in a will contest.
Frequently Asked Questions About Will Contests in New Jersey
While a party’s standing to file a will contest will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of the situation, generally, any interested party will be entitled to contest a will. Interested parties include any individual or entity that can show that they have a financial interest in the outcome of the estate administration, usually, the beneficiaries named in any will purportedly be created by the decedent, as well as people who would qualify as heirs under state intestacy laws.
The length of time that a party has to file a timely will contest is dependent on the state’s statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for a will contest normally begins running from the date that the will is filed for probate. In New Jersey, if you fail to object to the application for probate, you have only four months (six months if you reside outside New Jersey) to file suit to contest the will. Once probate is closed, you have up to one year to reopen the probate to contest the will, but usually only for extraordinary circumstances such as the discovery of a more recent will. In New York, a will contest must be filed when interested parties receive notice from the court that the will is being offered for probate by the scheduled court date on the notice.
“I always felt that they were genuinely fighting for me; truly looking out for my best interests."
I am very grateful for Sandra Choi and her team. They were kind, compassionate, thorough and very professional throughout the entire process of my case. I always felt that they were listening to my concerns and interests and provided all the professional advice and answers to my questions that I needed to feel confident about my decisions.”
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Sandra Choi is attentive, kind, thoughtful, and professional. She was thorough and well-prepared throughout my case, and I was impressed by her honesty and work ethic. Ms. Choi and her team were helpful and responsive to my questions and concerns, and she certainly exceeded my expectations. I highly recommend Ms. Choi and her team.