How Long Does it Take to Contest an Estate?

If you think something is wrong with an estate, or you feel that the deceased may have been manipulated, under duress, or coerced and that as a result you were wrongfully left out of a will or estate plan, you may think about challenging the estate. How long will that take?

As you can imagine, the answer to this question is not the same for everybody, and largely depends on the size of the state, what is being fought over, and the issues in your individual lawsuit.

The Time to File a Challenge

Let’s start with the time limit just to file your challenge. You have six months to file. Even if you are aware on day one that you want to challenge a will or an estate, your probate or will contest attorney may need the extra time to speak with witnesses, gather facts and evidence, and get the paperwork necessary to legally and officially file the challenge.

Once the Case is Filed in Court

Once the case is filed, the length of the case will depend largely on how willing the parties are to fight, and how close the parties are to settling.

In a normal probate case—such as one where there is no challenge, just a standard probating of the assets of the estate—the probate process can take about a year. That means that if you wanted to challenge the will or estate, adding to that time, you are likely looking at much longer than a year.

Why So Long?

Much of the time it takes to challenge an estate is out of you, or your attorneys’ control. For example, if court hearings are needed, your attorney is largely dependent on the court’s schedule and availability to conduct those hearings. If depositions of witnesses need to be taken, the schedules have to be coordinated with all the parties and the witness. Experts may need time to review documents, data, and evidence, and form their opinions.

It Can be Quicker

Before you get discouraged at the answer of “more than a year,” that does not mean your case has to take that long.

In some cases, when the estate wants to resolve a contested case, it can take a shorter amount of time. Often, the attorney’s fees that are paying for the estate’s lawyer are coming out of estate funds, or the pockets of the beneficiaries. This may make them more willing to settle the case early, rather than engage in protracted litigation that will ultimately cost them money, even if they win.

Many beneficiaries may just want to give you a share of the estate, collect whatever else they are entitled to, and move on.

You can expect them to be less likely to settle—and thus, for the case to extend longer than a year, possibly two years—if there is more money or assets at stake, and the parties are less likely to want to resolve the issues before a trial.

The Chicago contested estate planning lawyers at Orlowsky & Wilson, Ltd can explain to you what you can expect in your will or estate challenge lawsuit.

Updated as of July 2019
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