What You Need to Know About Will Contests

Creating a will is a crucial part of estate planning. A will lets you decide who gets your property and belongings after you pass away. However, sometimes there are disagreements about a will. That is called contesting a will. During this challenging time, our Washington probate lawyers can guide you through the steps and help protect your interests.

This article will give you an overview of why a will might be contested, how the process works, and what can happen if a will is challenged in Washington. It’s good to know what to expect, whether you’re making a will or dealing with a loved one’s will.

Quick Summary:

  • A will contest occurs when someone challenges the validity of a will, alleging that it does not accurately reflect the deceased person’s intentions.
  • Not everyone can contest a will. Those with a reasonable expectation of inheriting something or being impacted by the will’s contents, such as named beneficiaries, omitted family members, heirs under state law, and creditors, may have the right to contest.
  • Common reasons for contesting a will include lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, fraud or forgery, improper execution, and revocation issues. Knowing these grounds can help prepare for potential challenges.
  • Contesting a will involves filing a petition with the probate court, gathering evidence, and presenting your case at a court hearing.
  • In Washington, you typically have four months from the date the will is admitted to probate to contest it. This time limit ensures disputes are resolved promptly and prevents delays in estate administration.

What is a Will Contest?

A will contest happens when someone challenges the validity of a will. That means they disagree with the will and argue that it does not accurately reflect the testator’s intentions.

Will contests can be very stressful and expensive for everyone involved. They can delay the distribution of assets from the estate and create a lot of family tension.

Who Has the Right to Contest a Will in Washington?

Not everyone can contest a will. To challenge a will, you must be an “interested party.” That means you have a reasonable expectation of inheriting something or being impacted by the will’s contents. Here’s a look at who can contest a will and why:

People Named in the Will

If you are named in the will and feel something is wrong with it, you can contest it. For example, you might believe the will doesn’t truly reflect what the person wanted.

People Not Named in the Will

If you think you should have been included in the will but weren’t, you might have the right to contest it. For example, if you are a close family member who was left out, you could challenge the will.

Heirs Under State Law

Even if you are not named in the will, you can contest it if you would inherit something under state law if there was no will. That includes children, spouses, and sometimes parents or siblings.


If the person who passed away owed you money, you can contest the will to try to get the debt paid from the estate. While creditors generally don’t have the same rights as a family to contest a will, they can get involved if the estate doesn’t have enough money to cover what you owe them.

What are the Grounds for Contesting a Will in Washington?

A person can contest a will for several reasons. Knowing these legal reasons can help you understand the potential for future problems. There are a few common reasons why someone might contest a will:

Lack of Testamentary Capacity

Testamentary capacity describes the mental state to make a will. Adults are presumed to have this ability. Challenging this presumption usually involves arguing that the adult was not of “sound mind” at the will’s execution. That means they didn’t understand what they were doing or what the will said. Maybe they had dementia, were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or otherwise couldn’t understand what they were doing.

Undue Influence

That happens when someone pressures or manipulates the deceased into changing their will to benefit themselves. That means the testator didn’t make the decisions on their own.

Fraud or Forgery

The will is fake or has been altered. That means the will doesn’t reflect the true wishes of the testator. Someone might have lied or deceived the deceased to get something in the will they wouldn’t have otherwise received.

Improper Execution

Wills need to follow specific legal formalities, like having witnesses and being signed correctly. Improper execution means a will wasn’t signed or witnessed correctly according to the law. If these rules aren’t followed, that can make the will invalid.

New Wills Replacing Older Wills

The testator might not have properly revoked the older will. For a new will to replace an older one, the older will must be revoked correctly. If the testator did not clearly state that the new will revokes the old one, there might be confusion about which will is valid.

How Do I Contest a Will in Washington?

Contesting a will is a serious matter and involves legal procedures. Here’s how you can do it if you believe a will is not fair or valid:

Know Your Reasons

Before contesting a will, you need to have a good reason. It could be because:

  • The person who made the will wasn’t thinking clearly.
  • Someone forced them to make the will.
  • The will is fake or has been changed.
  • The will wasn’t signed or witnessed correctly.

File a Petition

To start the process, you must file a petition with the probate court. This document explains why you think the will is not valid. You’ll need to provide evidence to support your claim.

Gather Evidence

You’ll need proof to back up your claim. That could include:

  • Medical records show the testator was not of sound mind.
  • Witness statements about any pressure or influence on the testator.
  • Any documents that show the will are fake or have been changed.
  • Proof that the will wasn’t signed or witnessed correctly.

Court Hearing

After you file your petition and gather evidence, there will be a court hearing. That is where both sides can present their evidence. The judge will then decide if the will is valid or not.

How Long Do You Have to Contest a Will in Washington?

Contesting a will in Washington has a time limit. That means you have to act within a certain period if you want to challenge a will. Waiting too long can make it harder to gather evidence and prove your case. Plus, you may lose your right to challenge the will if you miss the deadline.

In Washington, you typically have four months from the date the will is admitted to probate to contest it. Probate is a court process required to prove the authenticity and validity of a deceased person’s will and carry out the intentions in the will.

The process can be expensive, time-consuming, and complicated, especially if the deceased person did not implement any other estate planning devices.

The time limit is crucial because it ensures that disputes over wills are resolved promptly. It also provides certainty to the beneficiaries and helps prevent delays in the estate’s administration.

Your Advocate in Will Contests: How Our Washington Probate Lawyers Can Support You

Contesting a will is serious, but knowing your rights and understanding the process can make a big difference. If you believe a will isn’t fair or doesn’t reflect the wishes of the person who made it, you have the right to challenge it. Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone.

At James A. Jones Attorney At Law, our Washington probate lawyers are here to help you deal with the complexities of contesting a will. From evaluating your case to representing you in court, our estate planning law firm will stand by your side every step of the way.

We’ll listen to your concerns and understand why you want to challenge the will. Your story is important to us, and we’ll work to understand your unique situation.

Your future and the integrity of your loved one’s wishes are important to us. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation, and let us help you protect your rights and interests.

Tacoma Estate Planning Attorneys

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