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Who Can Legally Contest a Will or an Estate in Texas?

Updated: May 20

Contest a Will in Houston
Contesting a Will in Texas

In Texas, only those who have “standing” can contest a will or estate. This means beneficiaries and heirs can contest a will, as well as any person or company that owns a portion of the property that is passing through the probate process.

Determining Who can Contest a Will in Texas

Understanding who has the legal standing to contest a will is a crucial aspect of estate planning and probate. The ability to contest a will in Texas is not open to just anyone but is governed by specific rules and criteria. Here are the key factors that determine who can contest a will:

Legal Standing: Only individuals with legal standing are eligible to contest a will in Texas. This typically includes beneficiaries named in the will, heirs who would inherit if there were no will, and parties who hold a legal interest in property passing through probate.

Grounds for Contest: Those who wish to contest a will must have valid grounds for doing so, such as claims of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, fraud, or improper execution of the will. Having legal standing alone does not guarantee a successful contest.

Consulting an Attorney: Given the complexities involved in contesting a will, it’s advisable to consult with an experienced probate attorney. An attorney can assess your case, determine if you meet the legal criteria for contesting, and provide essential guidance throughout the process.

Acting Promptly: Timing is crucial when contesting a will. In Texas, probate proceedings must commence within a specific timeframe after the decedent’s passing. Failing to act promptly may result in losing the opportunity to contest.

Evidence and Legal Process: Contesting a will involves presenting evidence to support your claims. This includes documents, medical records, and testimonies. The legal process often includes pre-trial motions, discovery, mediation, and potentially a trial.

Seeking a Resolution: In some cases, parties may attempt to reach a settlement through mediation or negotiation to avoid a lengthy and costly trial. Your attorney can guide you through these alternative dispute resolution methods.

By understanding these factors and consulting with a knowledgeable probate attorney, you can make informed decisions regarding whether you have the legal standing to contest a will and how to proceed effectively.

Can a Decision Made by the Probate Court Judge Ever Be Appealed?

Generally, you can appeal a Texas probate court ruling. However, Texas probate decisions are not often as straightforward as in civil cases. There are many orders and judgements entered throughout probate proceedings that can be subject to an appeal. For example, you can appeal a statute that expressly provides that an order is a final, appealable order. You can also appeal the court ruling if an order disposes of all parties and issues in a particular phase of the proceedings.

Steps to Contest a Will in Texas

  1. Consult an Attorney: Begin by seeking advice from a qualified probate attorney in Texas who can assess your case and provide expert guidance on whether you have valid grounds for contesting the will.

  2. Gather Evidence: Work closely with your attorney to collect all pertinent evidence supporting your claim, such as documents and testimonies. This will strengthen your case and substantiate your allegations.

  3. File a Lawsuit: Your attorney will initiate the process by filing a formal lawsuit in the appropriate Texas probate court. This document outlines the reasons for contesting the will and requests a review of its validity.

  4. Engage in Legal Proceedings: Prepare for legal proceedings, including the discovery process, mediation or negotiation attempts, and, if necessary, a trial. Throughout, your estate planning attorney will advocate for your rights and guide you toward the best possible outcome.

What Gifts Can Be Disputed?

Any gift that is going through probate can be disputed. The larger the gift, the more likely there will be a dispute. There are often disputes between children when one child is set to receive more than another child.

Gifts that are given during incapacity can especially create problems, as a lack of capacity is the most frequent claim made when allegations of fraud and involuntary gifting are asserted.

You also want to avoid gifting before death as an attempt to avoid probate. This can lead to the person receiving the gift paying a capital gains tax if the gifted property’s value has increased since you purchased it.

How Do We Avoid Probate Litigation?

Probate litigation can be avoided by using trusts. Trusts are an extremely powerful estate planning tool that can skip probate altogether, ultimately skipping any family disputes and keeping your heirs and assets private from creditors and predators.

If you are unsure of whether you would like to use a trust, there are other strategies that may be used, depending on your assets and estate planning goals!

To learn how you can avoid probate, it is best to schedule a complimentary strategy session with an experienced member of our estate planning team. Our team member will learn more about your assets, goals, and family members or other beneficiaries and will provide you with the best estate planning options for you.

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