During a Will contest, a question may rise as to who is an interested party with regard to an estate. This question is not quite as simple as it may appear at first sight. In fact, the interested parties may be substantially greater than the party initiating the Will contest might have anticipated. As discussed below, interested parties are not merely those who are listed under the Last Will and Testament.
Once an individual is appointed as the Executor of the Estate, the Executor may utilize Estate funds in order to undertake actions which are in the best interests of the Estate. Such actions may include defending against claims brought against the Estate by beneficiaries, potential beneficiaries, or third parties.
This blog will explore the possibility of probating a copy of a Decedent’s Will if the original document cannot be located. Typically, the County Surrogate will only accept for Probate an original of a Decedent’s Last Will and Testament. If for some reason an original of a Decedent’s Will cannot be located, a party may apply to the Court to Probate a copy of the Decedent’s Will.
In general, the time to contest a Last Will and Testament is very short. An in-state resident who is aware of the notice of probate will have four months to challenge a Will from the time it is submitted to probate. On the other hand, an out of state resident would have six months to challenge a Last Will and Testament once it is admitted to probate.
After a person passes away, their assets are typically divided into probate assets, which are assets which pass through the Estate, and non-probate assets, which are assets which pass outside of the Estate.
Probate assets are those to which a beneficiary is not specified, and thus, the assets become part of the Decedent’s Estate.
Non-probate assets those in which a direct beneficiary is specified by the instrument itself, and therefore, these assets pass outside of the Estate.
Traditionally, an IRA, a joint bank account, and other investment vehicles are considered non-probate assets provided the beneficiary designation or survivorship designation is properly executed.
It is well accepted law that an Executor of an Estate may use Estate assets to defend any challenges levied against the Will and any provisions contained therein. So long as what is challenged is the Will itself or a provision therein, an Executor may hire an attorney to defend the Estate. Any counsel fees incurred in defending against a challenge to the Will would be payable through the Estate by the Executor. On the other hand, there are limitations as to when an Executor may utilize Estate assets to defend against claims related to non-probate assets.
Upon the death a loved one, the Last Will and Testament governs how the liquid assets of an Estate are distributed. It is also common that the Last Will and Testament may provide instructions as the distribution of some of the personal property of the Decedent. Even under such circumstances, however, this often leaves a large amount of personal property which has to be divided among the living heirs. There are several different ways in which the remaining items of personal property of the Decedent can be distributed which is discussed below.
When an Executor named under a Last Will and Testament seeks to probate the Will of the Decedent, the original copy containing the original signatures of the Decedent must be submitted to the Surrogate’s Office. What happens, however, if the original copy with the original signatures cannot be located? Under such circumstances, the only option may be to seek to probate a copy of the original Will.
Should a person wish to file a Will contest, the first threshold issue which must be addressed is whether that person has standing to file a Will contest.
In general, “standing” means whether a Plaintiff legally has a right to bring a claim to contest a Last Will and Testament in the Court with jurisdiction to hear the matter. The spouse, child, or next of kin of the Decedent automatically have a right to file a Will contest, whether they are named within that instrument or not.
In addition to these family members, a beneficiary under a current or previous Will would also have standing to commence a Will contest. These individuals have standing to contest the current Will even though there may be no blood relationship between them and the Decedent. The rationale for granting these individuals standing is because if the disputed Last Will and Testament is invalidated by the Court, then the Court could require that the Decedent’s previous Last Will and Testament be admitted to probate. For a direct citation to the relevant Court Rule, you may refer to Rule 4:80-1 within the New Jersey Rules of Civil Practice and Procedure which governs standing to contest a Will.
Should a party wish to file a Will contest, they should consult with an attorney to assist them with the process. Standing is merely one factor to consider with regard to a party’s right to file the Will contest; however, it is a threshold issue.
One of the potential causes of action pursuant to which a party may seek to invalidate a Will is based upon an allegation that undue influence was exerted against the Decedent by a beneficiary to the disputed Will. Continue Reading Undue Influence in a Will Contest