How we want our estate to be managed in the event of our death is something most people go out of their way to avoid thinking about. Yet this process – known as writing a last will and testament – is vitally important in the preservation of wealth and protection of assets. Failure to leave a legally binding will behind can result in your friends and loved ones being forced to battle it out in probate court.

The other side of this coin – one which gets about as much consideration as writing a will – is what to do if you’re the direct heir of someone who dies. Most people feel uncomfortable about the thought of their closest relatives passing away, a sentiment which transfers over to an unwillingness to take an active role in the management of their estate. However, this lack of action can result in you being denied an inheritance which is rightly yours.

This article aims to discuss what to do if you need to contest a will. For the sake of simplicity, we’re focusing specifically on how to contest a will in the state of California; given its massive population, chances are you or a loved one currently live there.

Find a good probate lawyer

Unless you happen to be a good probate lawyer in California, you’ll need to schedule a consultation with one right away. A good probate attorney in San Diego or whichever major city is closest will be able to advise you on what to do next. They will be honest regarding the strength of your claim and the likelihood of a favorable outcome. What’s more, they’ll provide crucial knowledge and experience you’ll need in order to successfully contest a will in California probate court.

Discuss the discrepancy

Those who wish to contest a will must have a valid reason for doing so. The grounds for your case – or lack thereof – will be aired out during your initial consultation with a California probate lawyer. For instance, if your father didn’t mention you in his will at all, you have a right to contest the will via the omitted heir statute per California state law. A last will and testament that lacks affirmative language reflecting a direct heir’s disinheritance can be disputed by that heir in the event they are left out of the will.

Petition the court

Time is a factor in petitioning the probate court of California. In order to contest a will, you will need to file an objection no later than 120 days after the hearing. In fact it’s best to do so prior to the hearing happening in the first place, otherwise the process is likely to last for an unnecessarily long length of time. If you’ve secured the services of a lawyer, this will be their responsibility.

Be patient

Civil court moves slow and probate is no exception. Be prepared to be patient when contesting a will in California. Even with the help of a lawyer and their assurances its a cut and dry case in your favor, the process is likely to take months if not years. Other interested parties, such as creditors and individuals whom the decedent owed money to, will likely object to your efforts and have every right to do so; such a dispute is what the courts were designed to settle.

Most people shy away from writing a will or thinking about their role in the management of someone else’s estate. Given our innate fear of death it’s only natural. With that said, the stakes are too high to simply look away when it’s time to manage a will or possibly contest one.