What Kinds of Disputes Can Arise Over a Will?

by Andre L. Pennington on Jun. 29, 2021

Estate Estate Planning 

Summary: This article explains how to navigate the waters of a will contest and contested estate.

No matter how carefully a will is drafted, disagreements sometimes arise among heirs and others concerning the will’s authenticity or about the proper distribution of the deceased person’s assets.

A will contest is a formal challenge lodged during probate court proceedings by an interested party, who under Arizona law may be a beneficiary named in the will or may be an heir of the deceased, whether or not named in the will. The will contest can challenge the legitimacy of a particular bequest or the validity of the will as a whole.

Arizona recognizes several grounds for contesting a will. They range from questioning the will’s authenticity to doubting the decedent’s ability to make a will to claiming illicit acts by third parties. These are the most common grounds:

  • Improper will execution — A challenger can claim that the will was not created according to law. In Arizona, a will must be signed by the person making the will (the “testator”) in the presence of two witnesses. The witnesses must also sign the will and attest that the testator told them the document was indeed his will.
  • Testamentary incapacity — The testator must have been of sound mind when executing the will. This means he or she was aware of the significance of creating the will and of the amount and nature of the assets that would be distributed under the will. He or she also must have had the intent to distribute their estate in this manner.
  • Undue influence — An interested party may contend that a third party (or one of the other beneficiaries) exerted coercion, fraud or another kind of “undue influence” over the testator. This situation may arise in disputes among the birth children and stepchildren of the testator, the birth children and second wives and husbands.
  • Vague or ineffective terms — If any of the will’s provisions seem ambiguous, conflicting or incapable of being followed, a contest may be limited to challenging those provisions or may seek to void the entire will. An example is a bequest to a child who has since died and left no heirs. Whenever possible, the probate court will interpret the will to sever the faulty provisions from the rest of the will so that the testator’s intent can best be honored and the rightful beneficiaries protected.

If the probate court agrees that a will contest is sustained, the court can void the will and distribute the decedent’s assets according to Arizona intestacy laws.

Although some contests are unavoidable, an experienced Arizona estate planning attorney can draft a strong and effective will that clearly sets forth your intentions for distribution of your assets after your death.

Legal Articles Additional Disclaimer

Lawyer.com is not a law firm and does not offer legal advice. Content posted on Lawyer.com is the sole responsibility of the person from whom such content originated and is not reviewed or commented on by Lawyer.com. The application of law to any set of facts is a highly specialized skill, practiced by lawyers and often dependent on jurisdiction. Content on the site of a legal nature may or may not be accurate for a particular state or jurisdiction and may largely depend on specific circumstances surrounding individual cases, which may or may not be consistent with your circumstances or may no longer be up-to-date to the extent that laws have changed since posting. Legal articles therefore are for review as general research and for use in helping to gauge a lawyer's expertise on a matter. If you are seeking specific legal advice, Lawyer.com recommends that you contact a lawyer to review your specific issues. See Lawyer.com's full Terms of Use for more information.

Now Chatting...