In Fountain Valley, 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."
There are numerous 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 major 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.
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 Fountain Valley, California?
Courts in Fountain Valley, 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.
For instance, if the will was obtained through duress (threat of some kind of harm), then it is invalid. Duress, however, is difficult to prove. If a named beneficiary was in some position of power or trust with the decedent, and is not someone who one would ordinarily expect to get a large gift in a will, that might raise substantial initial suspicion of something improper happening. Of course, those facts alone are not nearly enough to prove duress.
A will can also be denied because the decedent was not mentally competent to draft it at the it was made. A court will look at the person's mental capacity at the time the will was made, so even if the testator is now perfectly sane, if he or she was incapacitated for whatever reason (by way of intoxication, for instance) at the time the will was made, the will can still be invalidated.
If the contest is successful, a court in Fountain Valley, California might find the will or part of it invalid. Of course, that leaves the question of how to distribute the property in the absence of a valid will. All states have laws that address this situation, typically passing the property to the decedent's closest living kin. All states have laws governing the order in which property is passed on in this manner. Normally, it goes to the spouse first. If there is no living spouse, it goes to the children. If there are no children, it goes to the decedent's parents, and so on. Most laws on this subject are written in such a way that almost everyone will have at least one relative entitled to inherit, even if that person is very distantly related to the decedent. In the very rare case where no living relatives exist, or none can be found, the decedent's assets usually go to the state.
Can a Fountain Valley, California Contested Will Attorney Help?
Because a will contest can sometimes involve confusing legal and factual questions, as well as some very raw emotions, a skilled Fountain Valley, California attorney can be invaluable in helping this process go as smoothly as possible.