In Merced County, California, there is a procedure through which a person can challenge the validity of a will. This is identified as a "contested will" or "will contest."
There are many 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 a lot of money, or some particularly valuable property, is at stake, the person who was left out might want to go to court and allege that the will was invalid. When left out of a will, a family member might naturally assume that some kind of mistake has been made, whether this is directly true or not.
However, this is a matter that should not be approached lightly - will contests can frequently 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 Merced County, California?
There are many reasons that a Merced County, California court might hold a will to be invalid.
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 normally 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. Additionally, 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.
Another reason why a will might be invalid is the maker of the will being mentally incompetent at the time the will was made. In order to make a valid will, the person making it must have enough of his or her mental faculties to understand what they're doing, and the consequences of it.
If you successfully contest the will in Merced County, California, the court will likely distribute the property as if the decedent had died without a will. This usually involves giving it to the closest living relative. While the exact intestacy schemes (the order in which property is distributed to relatives) vary from state to state, they are usually pretty similar. If possible, the property will go to the decedent's spouse, and if the decedent has any minor children with that spouse, it is with the understanding that the money will be used primarily for their care. If the decedent did not have children or a spouse (or outlived them), the property typically goes to the decedent's parents. If neither of them are alive, it goes to grand children, grandparents, or siblings. After that, it typically goes to cousins, nieces/nephews, step-children, former spouses, etc. Intestacy laws provide a line of succession long enough that just about anyone will leave at least one person behind who is entitled to inherit from them, even if they're an extremely distant relation. Sometimes, however, people make multiple wills, to account for the many personal and financial changes that typically happen during a person's life. Typically, the most recent will purports to revoke all past wills, to avoid any conflict between them. In such cases, if a will is entirely invalidated, a court can sometimes revive the second most recent will.
Can a Merced County, California Contested Will Attorney Help?
Contesting a will is often challenging, and never fun. However, the whole process can be made more bearable if you have the help of a knowledgeable Merced County, California attorney, and the process will probably be much more manageable.