A will contest is a probate proceeding where interested parties dispute the validity of a will. The most common legal grounds for disputing the validity of a will are undue influence by someone close to decedent, duress, revocation, mistake, the decedent’s lack of capacity when they signed the will, improper execution of the will, or fraud.
In order to commence a will contest, a person must first have an interest in the will. For example, California Probate Code § 8000 states, “at any time after a decedent’s death, any interested person may commence proceedings for administration of the estate of the decedent by a petition to the court.” The California Supreme Court, in In re Plaut’s Estate, clarified that an interested person is “one who has such an interest as may be impaired or defeated by the probate of the will, or benefited by setting it aside.” Importantly, the Court also pointed out that in a will contest, the court will not interpret the meaning of the will, but rather “the only issue before the court is whether the instrument contested is or is not the will of the [decedent].” That is, “the contest of a will is not an end in itself,” but it is the “first in a series of proceedings” which determine the various asserted claims under the will.
[Last updated in November of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]