Contesting a Will in Iowa
Contesting a Will in Iowa
A last will and testament is a document that mandates how the State distributes a person's property to their beneficiaries after that person’s death. The laws pertaining to a person's will differ from state to state.
Knowing the basics of the probate process in your state is important for anyone dealing with a loved one's parting wishes. In the case of mismanagement or inaccurate dealings, some people choose to challenge a will. However, this is no simple task, and a lot goes into successfully contesting estate litigation.
If you suspect wrongdoing or have other serious concerns regarding beneficiaries or estate mismanagement, you may be able to contest the legal validity of a will.
What Does It Mean to Contest a Will in Iowa?
If there is uncertainty or doubt about a will's validity after it is submitted to probate, an interested party may contest it. This often occurs when family members disagree on important factors in their loved one's will, but can also arise when someone makes changes to a will immediately prior to their death or a will distributes property in a manner contrary to the wishes a person expressed during their lifetime. Probate disputes can get tricky and frequently require the assistance of a skilled attorney.
Contesting a will in Iowa temporarily pauses the probate process of the decedent's estate. The probate proceedings stop until the court addresses the contest. However, not just anyone can contest a will, and specific factors must be at play to successfully do so.
If the court finds that the will is valid, the decedent's assets are distributed as stated in the document. In cases where there is a no-contest clause included in the will, things can get more complicated. By challenging a will with a no-contest clause, that person may forfeit their share and receive nothing if they lose in court.
Who Can Contest a Will in Iowa?
Many states impose laws to make contesting a will more difficult. This helps prevent people from challenging a will simply because they dislike its terms.
Having standards for contesting a will keeps the legal process moving forward. In Iowa, as part of the state's legal statutes, only an interested party can contest a will. A person must stand to immediately lose or gain something valuable, such as assets or property, in the written will to qualify as an interested party.
The Iowa Probate Code notes the following as interested parties:
- Beneficiaries: Any person named in the will and intended to receive part of the deceased's estate, or a person named to receive in any prior will of the deceased. This category might include long-term partners, stepchildren, or even charities.
- Heirs: Family members such as children or grandchildren who are entitled to inheritance from the deceased's estate as noted in the will. While a will does not have to include relatives to the testator, they are the most common recipients of an estate.
- Creditors: An entity, either a person or institution, that the deceased borrowed money from during their life with the intention of paying it back in the future.
On What Grounds Can a Will Be Contested in Iowa?
To contest a will, you must have valid reasons for doing so. The following are different grounds for estate dispute litigation in Iowa:
Incapacity of the Deceased
You may contest a will if the testator was unable to do the following at the time of creating and signing the will:
- Know they are creating their will
- Comprehend the type and value of their estate
- Identify any natural heirs
- Understand how they wish to distribute their estate
Proving that a person was not of clear mind when signing their will can be difficult but necessary if you wish to contest using lack of capacity as means for challenging the document. The claimant bringing the contest will be required to prove the testator’s incapacity.
Undue Influence Over the Testator
Undue influence means one party dominates over the testator or puts the free will of the testator in question. This could be done by
- Taking advantage of the testator's weaknesses
If you can prove the testator was subject to undue influence when they signed their will, this could be grounds for pursuing legal action. Pay attention to parties who have special relationships with a testator.
Fraudulence or Forgery
In cases of fraud or forgery regarding the signing or writing of a will, estate litigation is likely necessary.
Insufficient or Inappropriate Witnesses
In Iowa, two competent, uninterested witnesses must be present when a person signs their will for the document to be legally binding. Every will needs to comply with Iowa state laws during the drafting and signing process.
An Incomplete Will
If a will is only partially completed, this can be grounds for contesting it. Any unclear provisions or questions about multiple versions of the will may qualify as valid reasons to challenge the document and its validity.
Important Things to Consider When Contesting a Will
If you are thinking about contesting a will, you must account for important concerns before pursuing legal action. Consider the following:
1. Challengers Must Hold Standing
One of the most commonly asked questions is whether a challenger holds standing to dispute the document. Iowa will contest laws state that anyone who challenges a will must be an interested party and must have the capacity to sue to begin taking action. The will must impact you negatively and immediately, and you must have a personal interest in the litigation.
2. Claims Must Hold Ground
If you do have standing, you must also have evidence proving one or more of the following took place regarding the will:
- Improper execution
- Undue influence
- Lack of capacity of the testator
To successfully contest a decedent’s last will and testament, you must confirm the will is inequitable in one of these ways.
3. Time Is of the Essence
Iowa's statute of limitations requires you to pursue an estate dispute claim within 30 days after receiving an official notice of probate in the mail or 120 days after the estate executor publishes a second notice of probate in the local newspaper. You must act promptly if you wish to contest a will, and you cannot do so before a testator's passing.
4. No-Contest Clauses May Be a Factor
If you are considering challenging a will in Iowa, you must be mindful of no-contest clauses. If the will includes one of these clauses, you run the risk of forfeiting any right to your share of the deceased's estate if your challenge is unsuccessful in court. You must ask yourself if your evidence is sufficient and if you can justify your claim in good faith or if you have probable cause.
5. Challenging Litigation Can Be Costly
Estate dispute litigation can be very expensive. Before contesting a will, it is important to consider the costs and ensure you have the funds to pay the attorney's fees and other expenses to resolve your challenge.
There are some cases in which the court orders the estate to cover fees and expenses for a beneficiary who pursues legal action in good faith. If you are considered an unnamed third-party beneficiary, you can expect to pay the expenses yourself. However, in certain situations, you may be able to request restitution given that you successfully contested the will.
Contact the Estate Litigation Attorneys at Whitfield & Eddy
Because it can be very challenging to successfully contest a will and other estate litigation, having an experienced attorney on your side can be beneficial.
At Whitfield & Eddy, our attorneys value a down-to-earth approach to helping you build your case. We want you to understand your options and instill confidence in your choice to work with our law firm. When working with us, you can enjoy prompt replies and valued legal advice from our team of talented professionals.
Are you considering contesting a will in Iowa? Contact Whitfield & Eddy today!