The loss of a loved one can be a difficult period in your life. Unfortunately, when it comes time to administer a deceased friend’s or family member’s last will and testament, there are sometimes valid concerns about the legality of that document.
There are several legal grounds for challenging a will in Passaic County, NJ. These include issues where a will may have been forged or executed fraudulently. There may be situations where the deceased person lacked the capacity required to create a will or concerns about someone exerting undue influence. Sometimes, there are also valid concerns about how language in the will was interpreted.
Let’s explore each of these legal grounds in more detail before walking through the process of challenging a will in Passaic County, NJ.
Fraud or Forgery
Sometimes there are concerns that a will was not actually signed by the person who supposedly created and signed it, but was instead signed by someone else forging that person’s signature.
A will executed by means of fraud or forgery can be challenged.
Lack of Legal Capacity
In order to be able to make and sign a valid will in the state of New Jersey, the individual must meet the requirements for “testamentary capacity.” These include:
- At least 18 years old
- Capable of understanding:
- The extent and nature of his or her property and assets
- Who assets would pass to if there was no will (the person’s closest family members)
- How the will provides for distributing property and other assets
- How these elements relate to one another
If there are concerns that a loved one did not meet these requirements when he or she signed their last will and testament, you may be able to challenge the will on the grounds that there was a lack of legal capacity.
Unfortunately, situations also arise where there are concerns that another family member or friend exercised undue influence over your loved one, convincing them to create and sign a will for their own direct or indirect benefit.
If you believe your deceased family member’s will was created or signed because of improper persuasion or under duress, an attorney can help you question its validity.
Finally, sometimes wills are straightforward and easy to understand. However, in other situations, the wording of the will may not be clear or may be interpreted differently than what you believe was your loved one’s intent.
If the executor is administering (or has administered) the estate based on their interpretation of the will, but in a manner that is inconsistent with what you believe the will says, you have the right to challenge it.
Steps Involved in Challenging a Will in Passaic County, NJ
When you have reason to want to challenge a will of a deceased loved one, the first step is consulting with an estate lawyer who can review your case.
Your attorney will need to identify whether you have legal grounds to challenge the will and determine whether there are sufficient facts to support your claim. It is also important to determine whether probate has been started and/or completed yet, as the process differs.
If Probate Is Not Started or Completed
If the will has not gone through the probate process yet, you can file a document with the Passaic County Surrogate’s office by filing an objection, known as a “caveat.” Filing a caveat will restrict or stop the process. The next step is to file a verified complaint and an Order to show cause with the NJ Superior Court in order to obtain a hearing and an official court determination.
If Probate Is Completed
If the will has already gone through the probate process, NJ law does allow you to challenge it. However, you are more limited in terms of process and time. Instead of contesting a will directly through the Passaic County Surrogate’s office, you will need to file a complaint with the NJ Superior Court.
If you live in the state of NJ, the law gives you just four months from the date of probate to set it aside. If you live outside of NJ, you have six months to challenge the will. Under certain circumstances, judges may use discretion to extend these time limits for up to 30 days upon a showing of good cause.
After a caveat has been filed with the Passaic County Surrogate’s office, or after a complaint and order to show cause has been filed with the courts, the other party will have an opportunity to respond. In some cases, a settlement can be reached out of court. In other cases, your attorney may recommend litigating your complaint.
A Skilled Passaic County Estate Attorney Can Help Protect Your Loved One’s Legacy
If you have concerns about the validity of your deceased loved one’s will, it is important to talk to an experienced estate attorney who understands the Passaic County legal system and who isn’t afraid to fight for what’s right. A skilled attorney can represent your interests, helping to make sure your loved one’s wishes are honored.