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What is a will contest?

On Behalf of | Mar 23, 2022 | Estate Planning |

A properly prepared will is essential for assuring that assets are distributed as you intended.  But wills may be challenged for certain legal grounds in Washington.

Will contest

Estate planning should help reduce the odds of a will contest. This occurs when an interested person files a petition challenging a will if it is admitted to probate or rejected for admission to probate.

These petitions begin the contest and must be served within four months of the will’s rejection or admission. The petition should be served upon the estate’s personal representative within 90 days. All named beneficiaries, or the guardians of minors must also receive service of the petition.


Only certain matters are will contests involving the four-month restriction for filing and notice. These issues include:

  • Whether the testator had the capacity to execute their will.
  • Whether the testator executed their will under duress or if there was fraud or undue influence.
  • Other causes affecting any part of the will.

Submission of a later will or claiming that a subsequently executed will is the correct will are not considered as will contests in Washington. Contests do not involve a testator’s death when they no longer own the asset being distributed, lapse and other non-validity issues.

An interested person who is eligible to contest a will must have a direct financial interest in the will’s probate and the risk of suffering a direct financial loss. This interest must exist during the four-month window for filing. An interest that may be later acquired does not meet this requirement.

No-contest clause

A no contest clause, also known as an in terrorem clause, are added to wills to discourage beneficiaries from contesting the will after the testator dies. These typically prohibit a beneficiary who contests the will form receiving gifts or reducing their share to a very nominal amount.

Washington courts usually uphold and enforce a no-contest clause unless the person challenging the will has probable cause.  A person acting under an attorney’s guidance meets the probable cause requirement if that person completely and fairly presented all material facts to the lawyer.

Attorneys can help prepare a will that meets your needs and take other measures to lower the risk of a will contest. They can also draft documents that meet Washington’s legal requirements.