May 29, 2018

Will Contest & Statute of Limitations

A litigant often files a petition to contest the validity of a testamentary document shortly after discovery of the supposed flawed document. Rarely does a litigant delay filing suit. One principal reason for this is because of the statute of limitations. 

A litigant might have a colorable claim, but the law imposes on them the requirement to file suit in a timely manner. Otherwise their claim is time-barred because of the statute of limitations and their case will be dismissed. This produces finality to matters. If a litigant has an endless amount of time to file suit, this can be disruptive to any party because there is no assurance that the legal situation has been resolved. For example, if real property is involved, the owner will be discouraged from improving it as they fear a lawsuit could cause them to relinquish ownership in the property.

The facts of one recent unpublished appellate case related to a will contest that was unsuccessful because the statute limitations had run.

"Craig sued the estate of his father's widow and other individuals for intentional interference with expected inheritance and constructive trust contending the holographic will submitted to probate by his father's widow was fraudulent and the defendants intentionally used an incorrect address for Craig so he was not given proper notice of the probate proceedings. He alleged he did not discover the fraud until he reviewed the probate file in 2014.

In their answers, the defendants asserted the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense. Following a bench trial, the court found the statute of limitations expired for Craig's action and found in favor of all the defendants.

At Craig's request, the court prepared a settled statement setting forth the procedural background of the case and identifying the witnesses and evidence presented at the bench trial. The court summarized its findings, stating: "the [c]ourt found that the statute of limitations has expired and ruled in favor of defendants. Plaintiff claims that the will that was probated 24 years ago was fraudulent. Defendants established that the will and probate of deceased, Samuel C. Craig, Sr., was properly executed 24 years ago and that the probate was properly heard before San Diego Superior Court. The [s]tatute of [l]imitations bans a challenge to the will and probate after a 20[-]year delay. Case was dismissed." 

Craig v. Cardona, San Diego County Superior Court case # 37-2015-00010184