A will is a legal document that distributes a decedent’s property according to their wishes after passing. When a will goes through the court’s probate system, its validity can be challenged by those who have standing to contest the will. According to the State of California probate law, parties who have standing to contest a will include the will’s beneficiaries and the decedent’s heirs. Below are 3 common ways for these parties to challenge a will:
1. Not the decedent’s signature on the will
California law requires the decedent to sign the will. (Probate Code, section 6110). The signature demonstrates that the will is final and genuine. Usually, if the decedent signed by hand their full name at the end of the document, the signature requirement is almost always satisfied. However, a will is not valid if the purported signature on the will does not belong to the decedent.
Forged Will Signatures: A Case Study
For an example of what a forged will signature on a purported will might look like in California, consider the case of People v. Craig (2015):
After decedent Sherry Behrle passed away, Kelli Dawn Craig, a neighbor and caregiver for Behrle who had lived in the rear unit of Behrle’s house, filed a petition to probate Behrle’s purported will that named Craig as the executor and left everything that Behrle owned to Craig.
During a police investigation, Craig admitted that she signed Behrle’s signature on the will.
The court denied Craig’s petition to probate Behrle’s purported will because it was not properly executed due to Behrle’s forged signature. Also, the court affirmed the two-year prison conviction ordered upon Craig for perjury and forgery.
2. There’s a problem with the decedent’s holographic will
Holographic wills are handwritten and signed by the decedent. They do not require attestation by witnesses. California is among one of many states that permit holographic wills. (Probate Code, section 6111). However, a purported holographic will may not be valid if it fails to meet certain requirements. For instance, a holographic will must include the decedent’s handwritten signature. Also, it must include material provisions in the decedent’s handwriting, such as the named beneficiaries and the property to be distributed. (Probate Code, section 6111).
3. There are 2 (or more) wills
A will is an ambulatory document, meaning that the decedent can amend or revoke it at any time prior to their passing. California permits a will to be revoked by “a subsequent will which revokes the prior will or part expressly or by inconsistency” and by physical acts that destroy the will. (Probate Code, section 6120). However, a document that purports to revoke a will may be void if it does not follow these requirements.
Protect your legacies today with a Skilled Estate Litigation Attorney
The law of wills strongly aims to dispose of a decedent’s property according to their true and genuine intent. Contesting a will can be a challenging process, but Max Alavi APC, OC Trusts Lawyer, is here to help you win. If you believe you have a case to contest a will, contact Max Alavi, OC Trusts Lawyer to schedule a consultation today.