How long do you have to contest a will?

Updated July 05, 2018

A person can contest a will, challenging whether it is valid. There are many reasons a person can have a will deemed invalid, such as the testator was under duress, not of sound mind or perhaps given misinformation before signing the will. It could also be that a will was improperly executed. A person who believes she is a rightful beneficiary or entitled to more than she received, can proceed with a will contentment. A person has a limited time to contest the validity of a will.

Public Record

For a will to be valid it must meet the legal requirements of the state probate laws. Executing an estate takes time even under the most ideal circumstances. In that time, assets are confirmed, debts are paid and beneficiaries are informed. Wills are a matter of public record. Because wills are part of public record, the wishes of the testator are made public, unlike the execution of a trust. This can bring many people out of the shadows to lay claim on an estate.


A will is executed upon the death of the testator. The statute of limitations to contest a will varies from state to state but is generally around four years. In most cases, this time frame begins when the estate execution begins. The person contesting the will may not know she is not a beneficiary until the will is entered into public record when she can then file paperwork for contesting the will.

Time of Discovery

Contesting a will can occur after the execution of the will. The same time frame of four years (dependent on state law) would apply but would start at the time of discovery of pertinent information that could lead to contesting the will. Discovery could be finding out the will was not executed properly. It could be obtaining other documents that suggest fraud or the will being created under duress or fraudulent circumstances. For situations such as this, the time frame is determined by a reasonable expectation for discovery.

Reasonable Time

Beneficiaries have a right to have the estate settled in a timely manner, which is why a statute of limitations exists on contesting a will. Once someone files paperwork to contest the validity of a will, the beneficiaries have a right to have the proceedings move expeditiously and efficiently. There are no juries in a will contest. A will can not be contested for the same reason with the same information by the same person twice.

Uniform Probate Code

This code has been adopted in 18 states that doesn't allow for a spouse, surviving parents or children to be disinherited. A surviving spouse is entitled to at least 50 per cent of the decedent's estate with minimum requirements for children. In most cases, where there is no valid will, the spouse and children divide the estate. If there is a surviving spouse and two children, the estate will be split in thirds.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

With more than 15 years of professional writing experience, Kimberlee finds it fun to take technical mumbo-jumbo and make it fun! Her first career was in financial services and insurance.