Being appointed the executor of a will is often a great honour. It means your loved one trusted you to see their final wishes properly carried out. However, someone might contest the will and create more headaches than you're prepared for. Read on to learn what to do if you're the estate executor of a contested will.

Duties of an Executor

First, familiarize yourself with what you can and cannot do as an estate executor. You do have the ability to access any accounts, assets, or financial information for your deceased loved one. You can draw on these assets to settle debts, consolidate resources, and pay any required taxes. However, any money spent on the estate must be for the benefit of either the estate or its beneficiaries. You do have the right to be paid for your time, the amount for which is governed by the laws of your state.

Contested Will

If a beneficiary or possible beneficiary is unhappy with some term in the will, they may consider contesting a will in court. For instance, if an adult child spent their own money covering a parent's medical bills, the surviving child may feel entitled to reimbursement from the estate. Or if the decedent changed their will shortly before death, someone else may allege they were improperly pressured to do so.

How to be an Executor

If you receive notice that the will for which you are an executor is being contested, do the following things:
  • Prepare a list of all assets and debts your loved one had at the time of their passing. Don't forget to include any final invoices from a hospital, hospice, or assisted living facility.
  • Familiarize yourself with any estate tax laws in your state or province, along with national tax laws.
  • Gather all previous copies of your loved one's earlier wills. Legally, only the most recent will is valid. But sometimes an unethical relative puts pressure on a loved one to dramatically change their will shortly before passing. Courts often invalidate wills made under such pressure and revert to the next most recent will.
  • Speak to your loved one's next of kin, including children, spouses, siblings, or ex-spouses. Familiarize yourself with any family dynamics which may have affected your loved one's final wishes for their estate.

Consult an Attorney

Probate law can be complicated, and changes from state to state. If you're unsure of how to proceed, hire an attorney experienced in probate law. They can help guide you in the proper way to respond to a challenged will. Remember that you don't need to pay for this lawyer yourself. You have the legal right to draw on the estate assets to hire someone who can help you uphold your fiduciary duty to your loved one's estate and beneficiaries.