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Time Limits to Contest a Will In New Jersey

July 5, 2024 John J. Scura III


In New Jersey, once notice of probate is given by the proponent of a will, interested parties or next of kin typically have 120 days to contest a will. This period allows interested parties to file objections to the will's validity. You must act promptly within this timeframe, as missing the deadline will prevent a challenge to the will's validity unless there are exceptional circumstances justifying an extension, which would typically involve proving fraud, misconduct, or incapacity during the probate process.  Bottom line, if you want to challenge a will you must act immediately and seek advice from an attorney. 

Out-of-State Resident Time Limits to Contest a Will in NJ

If you are an out of state resident with an interest in a will or potential interest, New Jersey law provides a longer period of 180 days from the notice of probate to contest a will. This extended timeframe recognizes the logistical challenges that out-of-state parties may face in receiving notice and preparing a legal challenge. It allows sufficient time for these parties to consult with attorneys, gather evidence, and initiate legal proceedings to contest the validity of the will.

It's important to note that this 180-day period applies specifically to individuals who reside out of state at the time of the notice of probate. For individuals residing within New Jersey, the standard four-month timeframe typically applies. For precise legal advice concerning your situation, consulting with a probate attorney licensed in New Jersey is recommended. They can provide detailed advice based on the specifics of your case and ensure that all legal deadlines are properly met.

Court Rules In NJ Governing Time Limits for Will Challenge and Extensions

The court rule governing these time frames, Rule 4:85-1, specifically provides:

If a will has been probated by the Surrogate's Court or letters testamentary or of administration, guardianship or trusteeship have been issued, any person aggrieved by that action may, upon the filing of a complaint setting forth the basis for the relief sought, obtain an order requiring the personal representative, guardian or trustee to show cause why the probate should not be set aside or modified or the grant of letters of appointment vacated, provided, however, the complaint is filed within four months after probate or of the grant of letters of appointment, as the case may be, or if the aggrieved person resided outside this State at the time of the grant of probate or grant of letters, within six months thereafter. If relief, however, is sought based upon R. 4:50-1(d), (e) or (f) or R. 4:50-3 (fraud upon the court) the complaint shall be filed within a reasonable time under the circumstances. The complaint and order to show cause shall be served as provided by R. 4:67-3. Other persons in interest may, on their own motion, apply to intervene in the action.

The time frames contained in the court rule may be extended by 30 days under Court Rule 4:85-2 upon a showing of good cause and that no prejudice has resulted by the delay. Rule 4:85-2 provides: 

The time periods prescribed by R. 4:85-1 may be extended for a period not exceeding 30 days by order of the court upon a showing of good cause and the absence of prejudice.

Policy Reasons for Limiting the Time to Contest a Will in NJ

In New Jersey, the policy reasons behind limiting the time to contest a will as above from the notice of probate are rooted in several considerations:

  1. Finality and Certainty: Probate laws aim to bring finality to the distribution of an estate and the execution of a decedent's wishes as expressed in their will. Limiting the time to contest ensures that estates can be settled efficiently, and beneficiaries can receive their inheritances without prolonged uncertainty.

  2. Preservation of Evidence: A shorter time frame encourages timely resolution of disputes, helping to preserve evidence and memories relevant to the case. Delayed challenges could lead to the loss of crucial evidence or witnesses, making it difficult to accurately assess the validity of the will.

  3. Efficiency of the Probate Process: By imposing a deadline, the probate process can proceed more smoothly, reducing administrative burdens on courts and estate administrators. This efficiency benefits all parties involved, including heirs, creditors, and other stakeholders.

  4. Legal Stability: Establishing a clear time limit promotes legal stability and predictability in estate matters. It allows for orderly distribution of assets according to the decedent's wishes, minimizing the potential for prolonged litigation that could disrupt the estate settlement process.

  5. Protection of Beneficiaries: Limiting the time frame to contest a will helps protect beneficiaries who are entitled to receive their inheritances in a timely manner. It provides them with assurance that their rights under the will won't be indefinitely delayed by ongoing disputes.

Overall, these policy reasons are to balance the interests of all parties that may be involved in probate proceedings while upholding the integrity of the deceased's testamentary intentions as expressed in their will.  

Common Examples of Legal Grounds to Challenge a Will in New Jersey

Examples of legal grounds upon which to base a will challenge generally focus on the legitimacy of the will itself or the circumstances under which the decedent executed or created the will. Some of those examples of common ways to contest a will in New Jersey include:

  1. Lack of Testamentary Capacity:
    • A will may be contested if the testator (the person that died and made the will) did not have the mental capacity to understand the nature of making a will, the extent of their property, and who should receive it.

  2. Undue Influence:
    • You can challenge a will if it is believed that the testator was coerced or unduly influenced by another person to create or modify the terms of the will in a way that does not reflect their true intentions.

  3. Fraud or Forgery:
    • You can contest a will if there is evidence that the will was procured by fraud (such as false representations made to the testator) or if the will itself or any signatures on it were forged.

  4. Improper Execution:
    • New Jersey law requires specific formalities for the execution of a valid will by a decedent, including signatures of the testator and witnesses. A will may be contested if it is not properly executed according to these legal requirements.

  5. Revocation:
    • If the testator revoked the will before their death, either explicitly or implicitly by creating a new will or destroying the existing one, a challenge to the old will can be made if it is presented for probate.

  6. Ambiguity or Uncertainty:
    • If the language or provisions of the will are unclear or ambiguous, this may provide grounds for contesting the will to determine the testator's true intentions for the disposition of their property/assets.

  7. Duress:
    • Much like undue influence, if the testator made decisions or drafted their will under duress or threats, the will may be contested on these grounds.

  8. Mistake:
    • A will may be contested if there is evidence that a mistake was made in the drafting or execution of the will that does not reflect the testator's true intentions.

The time frame under the NJ Court Rules does not begin running until the Will is probated or an executor/executrix is appointed.  Thus, the clock begins to run upon these events occurring.  Furthermore, the notification of the probate of a Will that must be given to heirs, family members, spouses, next of kin, or beneficiaries under the Will. If this notice is not given, or the notice is late, the time to contest a Will may be extended. 

If you believe you have an interest in a will and are a potential beneficiary, you must seek out a NJ Lawyer as soon as you can.  If you do not take legal action by the time frames discussed above, you will lose your rights to challenge the will. 


John J. Scura III

John fights hard for his clients and tries to educate them so they understand what is going on with their particular legal problem. John has been Certified by The Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Civil Trial Attorney. Whether it is a personal injury case, bankruptcy case, litigation case or other type of matter, John wants his clients to participate in the decision making process toward solving their problem in the best way possible.

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