Understanding How the Statute of Limitations Applies to Wills

Roughly 3% of all wills are contested each year. Part of the reason for this very low will contest rate is the fact that you do not have much time at all to challenge a will. Even during the pandemic, you need to be prepared to start the will contest process as soon as you can.

When Does the Statute of Limitations Countdown Begin?

When discussing how long you have to contest a will, it is helpful to understand when the clock starts counting down. The statute of limitations for a will contest does not start the second a person passes away. Instead, it begins on the day that the will is probated. This involves a lengthy process of locating and valuing all the deceased’s assets and formally notifying beneficiaries about the will. After a person dies, it can take about two to 12 months for the will to be probated. Therefore, your overall time limit for will contests may be a little longer than you think.

How Long Do You Have to Challenge a Will?

When most people think about statutes of limitations, they assume they are only relevant in criminal cases. However, statutes of limitations are relevant in several other fields of law. A statute of limitations is a legal limit set up to keep people from starting court cases long after all relevant information is gone. When it comes to challenging wills, the statute of limitations ensures that someone does not try to claim property years after it has been distributed among the beneficiaries. Instead, people are required to challenge a will promptly while it is still easy to look at the evidence and divide the property.

In New Jersey, the statute of limitations for will contests is usually just four months. For those who reside outside of New Jersey at the time of the will’s probate, a little extra time is added. People outside of New Jersey have six months to issue a formal contest of the will. After this period, you usually cannot challenge the will or try to claim any portion of the deceased’s assets.

Is There Any Way to Extend the Statute of Limitations?

Four months might seem like a very short amount of time, but the good news is that you do have a little extra time in special circumstances. A judge may rule to allow a will challenge after the statute of limitations has passed if you can show that there is a valid reason to do so. A common situation is an executor who does not send out a notice that the will has been probated to all the deceased’s next of kin and beneficiaries. Any sort of fraud, neglect or improper conduct during the probate period may lead to an extension on the time limit for will contests.

New Jersey also allows people to file something called a caveat in the first 10 days after a person passes away. The caveat is, essentially, a formal notice that you have a problem with the will. Then your estate planning litigation lawyer gets a little more time to prepare an argument. If the executor of the will can set aside the caveat and probate the will, you can still proceed with a regular contest. Even after a caveat, you still have the four months following probate to contest the will.

If you are thinking about challenging a will, you need to start the process as soon as you can. Begin by consulting Hackensack’s trustworthy estate planning litigation lawyers. The Knee Law Firm has years of experience handling will contests and other related estate planning matters. Our practice areas include guardianships, trust administration, estate tax counseling and more. To find out more about how we can help you, complete our email form, or call us at (201) 996-1200.