Intestacy in a Will Contest

In this blog, we will examine what effects, if any, a finding of intestacy may have when a party is seeking to invalidate a Will. I discussed in previous blogs the numerous ways in which a party may seek to attack the validity of a Will. The issue discussed in this blog concerns what would happen if a Will is successfully challenged by a party. There are essentially two possibilities as to the outcome. The first possibility would be that the Court may revert to a previous Will to probate the Estate if this Will or a copy still exists. Under these circumstances, this previous Will will govern the distribution of the assets of the Estate. The other alternative is that the Court may find that the decedent died Intestate, in other words, without a Will. The possibility of a finding of intestacy is very important for parties to consider in deciding whether to challenge a Will.

If an individual died intestate, it means they passed away without an enforceable Will. In such instances, the distribution of Estate assets is governed by a statute as to how the distributions are to be made to potential beneficiaries of the Estate. The distributions under an intestate Estate are straight forward and are well established by law. After the relevant taxes are paid, the proceeds of the Estate would be distributed according to the relevant statute to individuals who are beneficiaries of the Estate.

The reason is obvious why it is important to consider a potential finding intestacy in deciding in whether to challenge a Will. It is possible that although a party may be a beneficiary under a Will which is being challenged, there is a distinct possibility that this party may not be a beneficiary if the decedent is deemed to have died intestate or if it reverts to a previous Will. That may be because a potential beneficiary does not have a familial relationship which would allow him/her to obtain an intestate distribution from the Estate.

In addition, a party cannot entirely rely upon the possibility that, should the present Will be invalidated, the Estate would revert to a previous Will. There is no guarantee that this will take place, because it is possible for the Court to rule that the individual died intestate. Although it is possible that the Court may rule that the Estate is now governed by a previous Will, there are numerous factors that the Court may consider as to this issue.

In sum, before a party levies a challenge to invalidate a Will, the party should consider what may ultimately occur if the testator is deemed to have died without a Will. As usual, it is stressed that any party seeking to contest a Will consult with an attorney before commencing action.

Paul Norris is a Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Litigation Group in our Lawrenceville, New Jersey office. For questions, or additional information, please contact Mr. Norris.