When someone passes away, their estate must go through a legal process called estate administration. In Arizona, the Superior Court has jurisdiction over estate matters. AZ Rev Stat § 14-1201(10) and 14-1302. There is at least one Superior Court in each County in Arizona. While estate administration is typically a fairly routine process, requiring the personal representative of the estate to follow specific steps to settle the estate, there are sometimes complications such as when someone who is an interested party believes that the will is invalid and should be thrown out. They can initiate a legal action called a “will contest” to challenge the will’s validity.
Basics of Will Contests in Arizona
A will contest is an official legal claim in courts in Arizona in which a person objects to the validity of a last will and testament. One of the first steps necessary for an executor or a personal representative to take after someone passes away is to open probate in the formal court.
This usually begins by the submission of a will and the executor is asking the will to be admitted into probate. However, the simple submission of the will to the court does not necessarily mean that it is viewed as legally valid. Other parties have a legal right to challenge the petition filed by the executor based on sound evidence that the will is not valid. There are a few different grounds on which this can occur. Arizona law recognizes the three different types of wills. Arizona law also mandates that specific factors be met in order for a will to be classified as valid.
A will needs to be signed and has to represent the real wishes of the person. This means that the person who created the will must have been fully aware and not unduly influenced or directed on what to put in that will by any other person.
Arizona law also requires that there is a general presumption that the person who wrote the will has testamentary capacity, meaning that the person creating and signing the will understands what the document they are creating and is competent and has mental capacity at the time. This means that any party attempting to initiate a will contest in Arizona must be able to show lack of capacity when challenging the will.
Grounds for Will Contest or Challenges in Arizona
Not everyone in any case can start a will contest in AZ.
As any Arizona will contest lawyer can tell you, when there are questions related to the valid nature of a current document, an interested person, such as an heir can initiate a will contest. In Arizona this is referred to a will being set aside or cancelled and this can occur when:
- The party who created the will was subject to undue influence.
- The party who created the will did not have testamentary capacity.
- The will for any reason failed to comply with Arizona law.
- There was any instance of misconduct involving an incapacitated or vulnerable adult that led to the creation of this will.
- The will was signed via forgery.
- A beneficiary was statutorily disqualified.
Actions to Construe or Interpret a Will
An Arizona will contest can also include another factor known as construing or interpreting the will to determine what the person meant by a certain provision. The general purpose of estate and probate law across the country and in Arizona is to give total effect to a person’s original intentions. When there is ambiguity or the intent of the person cannot be directly determined from a will, evidence beyond the document itself might be required in order to determine the person’s intent.
Penalty Clause in an Arizona Will
A penalty clause, also referred to as a no contest clause, is a provision in a will that penalizes any beneficiary who initiates a will contest. Testators include penalty clauses to deter beneficiaries from challenging the will. The penalty for challenging ranges from a decrease in the inheritance to disinheriting the beneficiary who challenges. Under Arizona law, penalty clauses are enforceable unless there is probable cause for challenging the will. AZ Rev Stat § 14-2517.