In Contra Costa County, California, there is a process through which a person can challenge the validity of a will. This is recognized as a "contested will" or "will contest."
There are various reasons why a person might want to contest a will made by a close family member. Sometimes, people will decide to leave money or property to charity, or to other entities who are not closely related. If their family members weren't expecting this, they might assume that something went wrong with the drafting of the will.
If the decedent was fairly well-off, their will might involve a great deal of money or property. This is one of the general reasons, besides a general sense of exclusion, that a family member might expend the great deal of time and money necessary to contest a will.
Nonetheless, this is a matter that should not be approached lightly - will contests can commonly foster strife and infighting within families who are already mourning the loss of a loved one. This can permanently damage or alter family relationships.
When Can a Will be Contested in Contra Costa County, California?
Courts in Contra Costa County, California will not let a person contest a will unless they have an excellent reason. There are, nonetheless, some allegations which will always invalidate a will, if they are proven.
To be valid, a will must be a product of the testator's own free will. So, a will that the testator was forced or tricked into making is not valid, if the probate court finds out about the duress or trickery. Of course, wills are usually made many years before a person dies, so how can a person expect to prove duress or fraud if they suspect it? To begin with, it's not easy. It is possible, however. First of all, it's good to have as much documentation of the testator's affairs as possible. Any written statements concerning their desires on this matter will also be very useful, if there are any. Further, if the suspect gift is totally out of left field (property is left to someone that you know the testator didn't like, or barely knew, for instance), this might also support your position that the will was invalid. Of course, the testator can leave his or her money to whomever they want, so these facts, by themselves, will not be enough to prove fraud or duress.
Because a testator must know what they are doing in order to write a valid will, the testator must be of sound mind at the time the will is made. Essentially, if a person is unaware of what they're doing, and the consequences of their actions, they can't make a legitimate will. This can be due to mental illness, or intoxication. Of course, if it's a result of intoxication, the testator can simply sober up and then make a perfectly valid will.
There are many other facts that might make a will invalid, and therefore serve as grounds to contest a will. If a will is effectively contested in Contra Costa County, California, and held to be invalid, this normally results in the property being distributed as if the decedent had died intestate (without a will). This means that it will usually go to the decedent's closest living relative.
Can a Contra Costa County, California Contested Will Attorney Help?
Because this can involve complicated legal issues, and be very emotionally draining, this is not something you want to go at alone. A seasoned lawyer in Contra Costa County, California can be very helpful in making sure that this process goes as smoothly as possible.