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Contesting a Last Will and Testament in Virginia

Going through probate after a loved one dies is nobody’s favorite chore. After mourning the loss of your parent, sibling, or other family member, the numerous responsibilities can feel downright overwhelming. When there is a question about the validity of your loved one’s Will and, as a result, a legal challenge to the document, the agonizing process can be lengthened by months or years. 

The good news—depending on your position—is that not just anybody can challenge the validity of a Will. Virginia law stipulates that “interested parties” are the only ones who have legal standing to contest a Will or other estate planning document. Interested parties are those named in the Will or anyone who would inherit under state intestacy laws (laws that dictate how a decedent’s property would be distributed if the decedent had no estate plan).

If you are an interested party under Virginia law, you must have a good reason to challenge a Will. To many people’s disappointment, being dissatisfied about their inheritance is not a good reason to contest the validity of a Will. Some acceptable reasons include (but are not limited to): 

  • Undue influence — The principle involved here is that the testator’s (person writing the Will) preferences should come first. However, depending on the testator’s living arrangements, there are plenty of opportunities for people with ulterior motives to coerce the testator into writing the Will so that they benefit. 
  • Lack of capacity — The testator needs to understand what he or she is doing when writing a Will, the effects of the Will, and the relationships with the people named in the Will. Sadly, many people wait too long to create a Will, resulting in their not having testamentary capacity. 
  • The Will does not fulfill legal requirements — Virginia law requires the testator to sign the Will in front of two competent witnesses. The two witnesses must also sign the Will in the presence of the testator. If an interested party can show that the Will did not conform to statutory requirements, the document may be disregarded. 

How Is a Will Contested in Virginia?

Before proceeding, interested parties who wish to challenge a Will in Virginia should act quickly. The statute of limitations for contesting a Will can be as short as six months in some cases. Those interested in contesting a Will have the opportunity to either challenge the existing Will (“impeach” the Will) or introduce a new Will. The procedures for both actions are heavily process-oriented and call for the help of a quality estate planning and probate attorney. 

Norton Pelt understands the emotions involved in contesting a Will and other estate planning documents. With us, you’ll get compassionate, understanding, and aggressive representation. Contact the Norton Pelt team today to set up an initial consultation.

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