Who Has Standing To Bring a Will Contest In Illinois?

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Standing is required to bring a will contest in Illinois.  To have standing, a plaintiff must have a direct, pecuniary, existing interest which would be adversely affected by the probate of the will offered for probate.  In re Estate of Keener, 167 Ill. App. 3d 270 (3d Dist. 1988).

In plain English, to have standing to contest a will in Illinois, the plaintiff must benefit from invalidating the will.  If the plaintiff is not affected by invalidating the will, or would be adversely affected, the plaintiff has no standing to contest the will’s validity.

What Are Some Examples Of People With Standing To Challenge a Will?

Beneficiaries Under a Prior Will

Beneficiaries under a prior will who stand to inherit from the decedent’s estate if the contested will is set aside have standing to contest the will.

In In re Estate of Keener, the court held that the wife of the testator’s grandson, who was named as a beneficiary in a prior will, did not have standing because she was not named in the penultimate will (the will immediately preceding the final will).  In Keener, the plaintiff was not a beneficiary of the will admitted to probate, nor was she a beneficiary of three intervening wills and a series of codicils executed after the will she was a beneficiary under and prior to the last will.  The Keener court stated:

To interpret the statute as conferring upon the petitioner the status of an “interested person” would also require the petitioner plead and prove facts attacking the validity of the four wills and several codicils drafted subsequent to the particular will naming her as a beneficiary. To interpret the statute in this manner would conflict with the orderly administration of estates and controvert the policy of the Probate Act. In interpreting statutes, consequences which are mischievous and absurd should be avoided, if possible…Statutes should be given a reasonable construction…This court concludes that the petitioner is not an “interested person” as that term is contemplated in the Probate Act. By defining the instant statute in such a manner we give efficient operation and  effect to the Probate Act as a whole.

The dissent argued that this interpretation was too strict, and that a “prior will” is not necessarily limited to the will “immediately preceding” the challenged will.  However, the more wills and the more time that exists between the challenged will and the will under which the plaintiff is a beneficiary, the less likely a successful will contest will be.

Intestate Beneficiaries

Intestate beneficiaries might also have standing to contest the will if there are no prior wills.  If the will contest is successful, and the estate would be distributed under the Illinois intestate scheme, then the intestate beneficiaries would certainly stand to benefit from a successful will contest.

Standing To Bring a Will Contest In Illinois Is a Threshold Question

Standing to bring a will contest under Illinois law is one of the first questions that an Illinois probate lawyer will ask, and one of the first things that defense counsel will look for.  Just because someone is upset with a decedent’s last will, does not mean they can sue to contest the will.  Instead, a plaintiff in an Illinois will contest must have standing, meaning they must benefit if the will is invalidated.