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What Are The Grounds to Contest Wills and Trusts in Arizona?

Will and Living Trust text with red pencil circle

When it comes to estate planning, wills and trusts define how an individual's assets are distributed after their death. However, not all wills and trusts go unchallenged. In Arizona, there are specific grounds to contest wills and trusts.

Contested wills and trusts refer to legal challenges brought against the validity of these documents. Contesting a will or trust often involves questioning the circumstances under which these documents were created. For example, was the person who made the will (testator) of sound mind? Were they unduly influenced or coerced into making decisions?

The chances of winning a will and trust contest are difficult to predict without understanding the specifics of the case. Generally, if the evidence strongly supports the claims of incapacity, undue influence, or fraud, the chances of success increase. However, it's important to note that navigating this situation alone can be challenging. That's why it's in your interest to talk to an experienced probate lawyer to review your potential options.

Are trusts harder to challenge than wills?

In general, it's more challenging to contest trusts than wills. This is because trusts often come with detailed instructions and are managed by trustees over time. This can provide more clarity and less ambiguity than wills. However, the difficulty of challenging a trust can depend on factors such as:

  • Documentation and management: Trusts provide clearer evidence of the settler's intentions, making them harder to challenge.
  • Privacy and timing: Trusts offer fewer opportunities for challenges due to less public exposure and scrutiny.
  • Legal standards and requirements: The stringent legal standards and requirements for creating and executing trusts strengthen their validity.
  • Higher burden of proof: Challengers of a trust face a higher burden of proof. This requires challengers to provide compelling evidence of incapacity or undue influence.

Grounds for contesting wills and trusts

Contesting wills and trusts in Arizona typically requires proving one or more of the following grounds:

  • Lack of capacity: This involves arguing that the testator or settler lacked mental capacity at the time of making the trust. This means they were unable to understand the nature of the trust, its effects, or the nature and extent of their property.
  • Undue influence: This involves claiming that the testator or settler was under undue influence when they created the will or trust. You must prove that someone coerced or manipulated them. The will or trust must have reflected the influencer's wishes rather than the true intentions of the testator or settler.
  • Fraud or forgery: This involves contesting on the grounds that the testator or settler was fraudulently misled about the nature or contents of the will or trust.
  • Improper execution: This involves arguing that the will or trust was not properly signed or witnessed as required by law.

How to contest a trust and will or challenge a contest

To contest a trust or will or challenge a contest, there are several steps and considerations involved. Once you have determined that you have a valid reason and standing, you must discuss the issue with other relevant parties who might join the contest. Having multiple beneficiaries or heirs can strengthen your case.

You must then compile evidence to support your claim. This could include previous versions of the will or trust, medical records of the decedent, or testimonies indicating undue influence, fraud, or duress. It's important that you work with a lawyer to draft a petition to void the will or trust and file it with the appropriate probate court. The court is where your lawyer will use the collected evidence and background information to support your claim.

In Arizona, the statute of limitations for contesting a trust or will is defined under Arizona Revised Statutes § 14-10604. To contest the validity of a trust that was revocable at the settlor's death, the proceeding must be commenced within the earlier of two periods:

  • One year after the settlor's death, or
  • Four months after the trustee sent the person a copy of the trust instrument. It should also include a notice informing of the trust's existence, the trustee's name and address, and the time allowed for commencing a proceeding.

Under § 14-3108, contesting a will must be initiated within the longer of two timeframes: either twelve months from the date of the informal probate or within two years following the death of the testator.

Contact an experienced probate attorney

The process of contesting wills and trusts in Arizona can be highly complex. Having a skilled probate attorney at Brown & Jensen on your side can help streamline the process. Our legal team is also experienced in challenging contested wills and trusts. We'll effectively represent your interests and ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process. To learn how we can help, contact us online or call one of our Arizona law offices for a free consultation.

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