New Jersey: Time to File a Will Contest
In general, the time limitation to file a lawsuit in the State of New Jersey is quite lengthy. For instance, an action related to a Breach of Contract matter would extend for six years from the date of the breach, whereas a Personal Injury matter may be filed two years after the cause of action accrued. With regard to a Will Contest, however, the period of time to file a lawsuit is actually quite short.
Rule 4:85-1 governs the time period pursuant to which a Will Contest must be commenced. In general, if you are an in-state party that time period begins to run four months after the probate of the Will or the granting of letters of appointment by the Surrogate. If you are an out-of-state party, that period begins to run six months after the probate of the Will or the granting of letters of appointment by the Surrogate. As such, the time period to contest a Will is extremely short based upon the confines of Rule 4:85-1.
It should be noted, however, that the Court can extend the time period for thirty days pursuant to Rule 4:85-2, based upon a showing of good cause. For the most part, the Court is willing to grant a thirty-day extension in light of the short time period set forth by the statute.
Aside from the time period set forth under Rule 4:85-1, a party may seek to commence a Will Contest based upon Rule 4:50-1. This rule provides that the Court may vacate an Order or Judgment of the Court based upon several grounds for relief. The most useful section is Section F of this Rule. This catch-all provision provides that the Court may vacate an Order or Judgment for any other reason justifying relief from the operation of Judgment or Order.
As can plainly be seen, this catch-all provision gives the Court great discretion and latitude to vacate a previous Order which might have admitted the Will to probate, thereby opening the door to a Will Contest. In general, however, there must be some demonstration of fraud, excusable neglect, or other improper conduct by the Executor of the Estate. As such, although it is a catch-all provision it is often times narrowly construed by the Court unless there is proof of wrong doing.
In light of the very short time period to contest a Will, it is always suggested that a party immediately consult with an attorney after notice of probate should they be interested in Contesting a Will. Should they wait any appreciable time, the time period during which to contest a Will could be lost.