Legal Standing

Who can bring a Will contest?

Is your own Will at risk of being contested by unscrupulous scammers? That is extremely unlikely under just about every imaginable scenario. Why? Because of a legal principle called “standing.”

Legally, if you have “standing,” you have a legal right to bring a case. For example, if you were injured by a defective lawnmower, you would have standing to bring a case against the lawnmower manufacturer. You were harmed. Nobody else was harmed. Therefore, nobody else has standing to sue the lawnmower manufacturer.

If your neighbor sued the manufacturer claiming your injuries, that suit should be dismissed. What if the suit was (mistakenly) not dismissed and a judgment was rendered before it was discovered that your neighbor did not have standing? In that case, everything would be voided. That is how important standing is.

So, back to our original question: Who can bring a Will contest?

It is first helpful to determine who has standing under regular probate proceedings. For regular probate proceedings, the Texas Estates Code dictates that “any interested person” has standing. Who, then, is considered an “interested person?” According to Section 22.018 of the Texas Estates Code, an “interested person” is “an heir, devisee, spouse, creditor, or any other having a property right in or claim against an estate being administered.”

Someone who has standing in regular probate proceedings may not have standing for a Will contest, though. For example, if you left unpaid hospital bills after passing away, the hospital would have standing as a creditor to make a claim against your estate during probate proceedings. That hospital, however, was not named as an heir or beneficiary of your estate in your Will, and thus wouldn’t have standing to contest your Will.

To have standing to contest a Will, the “interested person” must actually have some kind of reasonable interest in the receipt of the your property in a capacity as an heir or beneficiary of your estate. Such standing is most easily established by reviewing the Texas rules of “descent and distribution.” These rules are complex, but, to put it simply, direct family members can most easily establish their own standing by virtue of their relation to you. Non-family members may be able to establish standing by relying on extraneous evidence. For example, perhaps you disposed of property to your friend in an earlier Will a decade ago, but a suddenly signed new Will immediately before your death, which didn’t include your friend. Your friend could establish standing by virtue of his or her interest in the receipt of your estate’s property as a beneficiary thereof.

In summary, you must have “standing” to bring a Will contest. Without standing, your case will be dismissed.