How Do You Contest a Will in Virginia?

Imagine receiving a copy of your late father’s will from his attorney. Your father, a successful businessman with a sizable estate, passed away a few weeks ago. As you read through the will, you’re shocked to discover that the distribution of assets is vastly different from what you expected. You can’t help but feel that something is seriously wrong. 

Could your father have been unduly influenced? Was he mentally capable of making such decisions towards the end of his life? If you find yourself in a situation like this, you may be questioning the validity of the will and wondering about your rights. You might be asking yourself, “How do you contest a will in Virginia?” and “Do I have the grounds to do so?”

Who Can Contest a Will in Virginia?

In Virginia, not everyone has the legal standing to contest a will. You can challenge a will if you are:

  • A beneficiary named in the current will or a previous will: If you were a beneficiary in a previous will but were removed or had your inheritance reduced in the current will, you may have grounds to contest. 
  • An heir at law: If you would have been entitled to inherit under Virginia’s intestate succession laws had there been no will, you have the right to contest the will. 
  • An interested party: If you have a legal interest in the estate, such as a creditor or a child who was born after the will was executed, you may have standing to contest the will.

Understanding the Grounds for Contesting a Will

To contest a will in Virginia, you must have valid grounds. These grounds include:

  • Lack of Testamentary Capacity: You must prove that the testator (the person making the will) lacked the mental capacity to understand the will’s contents and the consequences of their decisions. This includes understanding the extent of their assets and who would inherit them. The lack of capacity may have been due to conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other cognitive impairments. 
  • Undue Influence: If you suspect that someone exerted undue influence on the testator, causing them to make changes to their will that they would not have otherwise made, you may have grounds to contest the will. This often involves a person in a position of trust, such as a caregiver or family member, who uses their influence to manipulate the testator’s decisions. 
  • Fraud: If the testator was tricked into signing the will or if the will was forged, you can contest it on the grounds of fraud. This may involve someone presenting a false document to the testator or misleading them about the contents of the will. 
  • Improper Execution: If the will was not signed, witnessed, or executed according to Virginia law, you may be able to contest it. In Virginia, a will must be signed by the testator and two witnesses who are present at the same time and who also sign the will in the presence of the testator and each other.

Filing a Complaint to Contest the Will

If you believe you have grounds to contest the will, you’ll need to file a complaint with the Circuit Court in the county where the testator resided. You must file this complaint within one year of the will being admitted to probate. In your complaint, clearly state the grounds for contesting the will and provide any evidence you have to support your claim. It’s essential to act quickly, as missing the deadline can result in losing your right to contest the will.

Gathering Evidence

To successfully contest a will, you’ll need to gather evidence that supports your grounds for contesting. This evidence may include medical records indicating a lack of testamentary capacity, witness statements suggesting undue influence, or handwriting analysis to prove fraud. An experienced will contest attorney can help you gather and present this evidence effectively. They may also recommend hiring experts, such as medical professionals or handwriting analysts, to strengthen your case.

The Role of an Executor in a Will Contest

If you are the executor of the will being contested, you have a legal duty to defend the will’s validity. This means that you’ll need to gather evidence supporting the will’s validity and argue against the contestant’s claims. As an executor, you may find yourself in a difficult position, especially if you are also a beneficiary or have a personal relationship with the contestant. It’s crucial to seek legal guidance to ensure that you fulfill your duties as an executor while protecting your own interests.

Resolving the Dispute

In some cases, it may be possible to resolve the dispute through mediation or settlement negotiations. This can be less expensive and less stressful than going to trial. Mediation involves a neutral third party who helps the contestants and the executor reach a mutually agreeable resolution. If a settlement is reached, the terms will be put in writing and submitted to the court for approval. However, if a resolution cannot be reached, the case will proceed to trial, where a judge will hear evidence and make a decision.

The Emotional Toll of Contesting a Will

Contesting a will can take a significant emotional toll on you and your family. It’s essential to consider the potential impact on your relationships with your siblings and other family members. While you may feel that contesting the will is necessary to protect your interests and honor the testator’s true wishes, others may view it differently. Be prepared for the emotional challenges that may come with the process, and consider seeking support from friends, family, or a mental health professional.

Seeking Professional Guidance

If you’re considering contesting a will in Virginia, it’s crucial to seek the guidance of an experienced will contest attorney. They can help you evaluate your case, gather evidence, and guide you through the complex legal process. Remember, contesting a will is not a decision to be made lightly. It can be a long, expensive, and emotionally draining process. However, if you believe that the testator’s true wishes are not being honored or that the will is invalid, contesting it may be the right choice for you. An attorney can help you weigh your options and make an informed decision.

Guiding You Through the Process of Contesting a Will in Virginia

Contesting a will can be an emotionally challenging and legally intricate process, especially during a time of grief and family turmoil. At PJI Law, our will contest attorneys understand the sensitivity of these situations and are committed to providing compassionate, personalized attention and guidance to help you through this difficult journey.

Whether you’re a beneficiary, heir, or interested party seeking to contest a will on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, fraud, or improper execution, our will contest attorneys are here to stand by your side and fight for what’s fair and just. We’re committed to using our skills and resources to help you achieve the best possible outcome in your case.

If you’re considering contesting a will in Virginia, don’t face this challenging process alone. Let the dedicated team of lawyers that contest wills at PJI Law be your guide and advocate. To schedule a consultation, call us today at (703) 865-6100 or through our secure online form. Together, we can work towards ensuring that your loved one’s true wishes are honored and that your interests are protected.

Copyright © 2024. PJI Law, PLC. All rights reserved.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

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Fairfax, VA 22030
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