How To Contest A Will In Texas – 5 Steps

 

There are five basic steps to contesting a Will in Texas. Shutt Law Firm’s Texas Probate Attorneys have handled thousands of estates cases in court, and we’ve handled many legal will contests and inheritance disputes.  With all of that experience, our attorneys can assure you this:  If you sense a problem with a a deceased person’s will or trust, it’s important to act quickly.

This article gives guidelines to keep in mind if you want to contest a Will in Texas.

 

Step One – Get A Copy Of The Will And Any Other Important Paperwork

If you want to show the judge or jury in the probate court that the Will is invalid, then you’ll need a copy of the alleged Will. When you go to meet your probate attorney, the alleged Will is the first thing the attorney will want to see. Probate lawyers can generally tell pretty quickly if a Will is valid or not.  

We probate lawyers have our tricks…  We can spot obvious forgeries, examine the dates for inconsistencies, and spot legal defects that may not be immediately obvious to a non-attorney.

 If you are the one trying to show the the probate judge that the version of the Will in your possession is the true and correct version, then try to secure the actual original of that document ASAP.  In our office, we like to say, “there is magic in the original,” so get that to your attorney right away.

You still have hope if you don’t have a copy of the Will. Once someone else takes the Will to court, the Will becomes available to the public.

Step Two – Go Have a Consultation with a Probate Attorney

Meet with an experienced Texas probate attorney as soon as you can after your family member’s death. There can be important deadlines, so you’ll want to win the “race to the courthouse.”

If you don’t know if you have a good case or not, you can find out from a dedicated probate lawyer. Try to meet with a highly experienced probate attorney, one who has lots experience with Texas probate law.  If you can avoid using a “general practice” type attorney, a lawyer focused on wills and trusts law will often return better results, faster, and with lower overall attorney fees.

The lawyer will examine the Will and try to develop a legal course of action for contesting the Will. Some wills have “no-contest clauses” built in. These clauses are often upheld in probate court and can make it more difficult to contest a Will.

The attorney will give you the legal options and possible courses of action. Your probate attorney will also give you a good idea of the cost to contest a Will. After the consultation, you can decide if you want to proceed or not.

 

Step Three – Time to Go to Court

As I mentioned, the earlier you contact a probate attorney and get into probate court to challenge the Will, the better off you will be. In larger Texas counties, will contest cases are handled by the probate court, not civil or criminal courts. There are three probate courts in Dallas County, one Collin County Probate Court, two Denton County Probate Courts, and two Tarrant County Probate Courts. The good thing about having specialized probate courts is that the judges know how to efficiently handle Will contests.

 

 Step Four – Try to Negotiate an Estate Settlement Agreement

Even if you don’t feel like negotiating with the other parties involved in the Will Contest case, you may not have a choice.  Probate courts routinely require the parties to go to mediation to try to reach a settlement. 

In fact, I’d say that most will contests in Texas are resolved by coming to a settlement.  These are called “family settlement agreements” or “estate settlement agreements.”

A settlement may be a good idea because a long, drawn-out will contests could be expensive.  If mediation isn’t successful, you may to go through discovery and multiple court hearings.

 

Step Five – Finalize Paperwork and Settle the Estate

If you were able to negotiate a settlement, your probate attorney will draft a settlement agreement for all the parties to sign. After the settlement agreement is signed by all the parties, someone will be in charge of distributing the assets.

If you didn’t settle your case, this is the stage in which you go to trial.  By now, you’ve been through a lot of attorney fees, stress, and work.  Legal cases headed to trial require a lengthy “discovery” process. In Texas, some probate cases have juries and others are “tried to the bench” (ie, the judge makes the final decision.).

 

As with all probate cases, before any of the parties can receive an inheritance, debts and expenses must be paid.

Remember, Shutt Law Firm PLLC is not just a legal firm; we are your trusted partners in navigating the challenging world of probate in Texas. We are unique due to our expertise, commitment to client care, and creative approach to resolving these complex legal matters.