Probate – Will Contests
In this week's Alabama Law Weekly Update, we bring you a case from the Alabama Supreme Court addressing the requirements to name beneficiaries under a will as parties to a will contest.
Ussery v. Estate of Terry, [1141070, February 19, 2016] – So. 3d – (Ala. 2016) (Will contest may proceed even if beneficiaries under the will are not added as parties to the contest within six months of the will's admission to probate).
In Ussery v. Estate of Terry, Norman Ussery contested the validity of the Fourth Codicil to the Last Will and Testament of Donald R. Terry, which reduced Mr. Ussery's share of the decedent's residuary estate from one-third to ten percent, but Mr. Ussery's complaint omitted certain beneficiaries under the Will and Fourth Codicil. The trial court granted the Estate's motion to dismiss the will contest. On appeal, the Estate argued that the Alabama Probate Code and the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure required that all beneficiaries under a contested will be named as parties in the complaint within six months of the will being admitted to probate. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court and held that a will contest may proceed even if beneficiaries are not named as parties within the six-month period.
The validity of a will may be contested by an interested party if the party files a will contest within six months after the admission of the will to probate. All of the beneficiaries of the will must be named as parties to the will contest. The Estate argued that this creates a statute of limitations and when applied with the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, all will beneficiaries must be named as parties within six months in order for the will contest to proceed. However, prior Alabama Supreme Court decisions have held that the six-month time period for filing the contest does not also require all of the beneficiaries to be named as parties within six months.
The Alabama Supreme Court emphasized that all that is required for the will contest to proceed is that a proper complaint be filed within the six-month period and that additional will beneficiaries may be added at a later time. The court concluded that its prior case law and the Alabama Probate Code do not prevent will beneficiaries from being named as parties beyond the six-month time period.