Contested Probate in Spokane, Washington
Probate is the legal process of distributing a decedent’s property to his or her heirs. To begin the probate process someone must file a petition with the Court, along with the decedent’s Will. If the decedent died without a Will, or intestate, Washington intestate inheritance statutes provide for the distribution of the decedent’s property to his or her heirs. Spouses, domestic partners, children, grandchildren, parents, and siblings may be the heirs of an estate, depending upon the decedent’s specific family tree and who survives the decedent.¹ If a Will is filed with the Court, it will determine if the Will should be admitted to probate and issue an Order admitting the Will to probate or refusing to probate the Will.² Once an order admitting a Will to probate or declining to probate a Will has been issued, an interested party wishing to contest the Will, or prove valid the refused Will, has four months to file a petition.³ This is called contested probate.
Who May Contest a WillContested probate claims may arise when a close family member has been unexpectedly excluded from a decedent's Will, an individual receiving a disproportionate share from an estate alleges testamentary incapacity or undue influence by another family member, or when a party alleges breach of fiduciary duty on the part of an executor or trustee. Only a person whose interests are affected by the probate of a Will may contest its validity. Generally, a person’s interests are affected if he or she would inherit from the decedent had the decedent died intestate, or without a Will. Parties who would not inherit from the decedent under Washington’s intestate inheritance statutes and who are not named in the Will may not have standing to contest the validity of the Will.
What Happens When a Will is ContestedWhen a Will is contested, the Court will hold a hearing in order to allow the parties to present evidence, call witnesses, and argue their cases. The Personal Representative, or Executor, represents the estate and must defend the decedent’s Will as valid. Both sides may conduct discovery, subpoena witnesses, and request evidence from third parties, and from one another. Witnesses in contested probate are generally family members, close friends, and healthcare providers who cared for the decedent during his or her last illness. Contested probate is a specialty unto itself, posing unique issues and requiring an attorney experienced in estate litigation and Will contests. If you are involved in a Washington contested probate case, contact the law office of Stephen Haskell for experience you can trust.
¹RCW 11.04.015. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=11.04.015
²RCW 11.20.020. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=11.20.020
³RCW 11.24.010. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=11.24.010