In Berkeley, California, there is a process through which a person can challenge the validity of a will. This is identified as a "contested will" or "will contest."
A will is typically contested when a family member who expected to inherit a large amount of money or property are disappointed with the contents of the will, particularly if the testator's motives are not clear. They will usually assume that the will must be a forgery, or a result of fraud or force.
If a considerable amount of money or property is being given away, the person left out of the will could rationally conclude that the cost and time of a court challenge is worth it.
As with the initiation of any other legal proceeding, contesting a will is a big decision. It can be time-consuming and costlye. It also has the possibility to damage family relationships and foster strife among individuals who are already mourning the loss of a loved one.
When Can a Will be Contested in Berkeley, California?
Of course, a Berkeley, California court will not invalidate a will without a very good reason, but there are some cases which render a will clearly invalid.
For instance, a will which was not made under the testator's own volition and free will is not valid. This means that the testator must be acting voluntarily throughout the entire process of making his will. Thus, a will made under duress (force, or threat of force) will not be given effect. In order to show duress, you generally need to first prove that the person named in the will was in a position of trust and power over the decedent, and that they are an "unnatural beneficiary" (someone who you would not normally expect to receive a gift under a will, usually because they are not related to, or close friends with, the testator). These facts, taken alone, are never enough to definitively prove that duress occurred. They are, however, usually enough to suggest that something strange is going on, and warrant further investigation.
Another fact that might invalidate a will is the mental incompetence of the testator. Wills must be a product of a person's volition. A will cannot be really voluntary unless the testator knows what they're doing. Therefore, if the testator is mentally incompetent at the time he or she makes the will, the will cannot take effect. You should be aware, however, that this test applies at the time the will is made. So, if the testator is not mentally competent at the time of death, but was when the will was made, the will is valid.
If a Berkeley, California will is successfully challenged and thus invalidated, there has to be some system for orderly distribution of the decedent's property. Typically, if a will is held invalid, all of the property will be treated as if the decedent had never written or will. This means that it goes to the decedent's closest living relative, or, if there are not relatives who can be located, the state.
Can a Berkeley, California Contested Will Attorney Help?
Contesting a will is never particularly easy or enjoyable. However, a reliable Berkeley, California attorney can help take some of the burden off of you, and handle some of the most difficult aspects of this process.