What Happens When a Person Believes a Decedent’s Will Is Not Valid?

If you believe the Will of a decedent was procured in a manner inconsistent with the intentions of the decedent, you should discuss your concerns directly with the personal representative appointed by the court to administer the dubious Will.  If that person is willing, you and the personal repesentative can choose to approach the court with a different agreed order concerning the decedent's estate and the decedent's Will.  If the personal representative is unwilling to revise his viewpoint, then you need to act promptly to bring a Will contest.

In a Will contest, an interested party challenges the validity or invalidity of a Will offered for probate.  The usual reasons for challenge are threefold.  First, the interested party files another Will, executed after the Will that has been filed, and asserts that the second Will is the last Will of the decedent.  Second, an interested party files a Will executed before the Will that has been filed, and argues that the first Will filed was obtained under conditions that render that Will invalid.  RCW 11.24.010.  Third, a small number of Will contestants argue that the Will admitted to probate is invalid, and that the decedent has no Will and so is intestate.

Will contestants must bring their challenge to a Will admitted to probate within four months and must state the reasons for their challenge.  The challenge pleadings must be served on the personal representative within ninety days of filing with the court.  RCW 11.24.010.  The usual causes for challenging a Will admitted to probate are that:

  1. a later-executed valid Will exists,
  2. the decedent was incompetent at the time of executing the Will admitted to probate,
  3. the decedent was forced to sign a Will the decedent did not otherwise intend to sign,
  4. some person misrepresented matters to the decedent causing the decedent to sign the Will admitted to probate, and/or
  5. some person exercised undue influence over the decedent in causing the decedent to sign the Will admitted to probate.  RCW 11.24.010.

Will contestants serve their petition on the personal representative in the same manner as TEDRA petitions.  RCW 11.24.020, RCW 11.96A.100.  No hearing may be set before twenty days after filing and service of the pleadings.  RCW 11.96A.110.  This notice requirement supercedes other notice provisions of the civil rules.  RCW 11.96A.090.  The burden of proof lies with the Will contestant.  RCW 11.24.030.  Attorney’s fees for the Will contest may be assessed as the court deems proper.  RCW 11.24.050.