In Santa Cruz, 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 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 a lot of money, or some specifically 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.
Like any legal matter, however, this should not be taken lightly. Will contests can foster conflict and strife within families who are already mourning a loved one. This can cause grave and irreversible damage to family relationships.
When Can a Will be Contested in Santa Cruz, California?
Courts in Santa Cruz, 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 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 legitimate will, the individual making it must have enough of his or her mental faculties to understand what they're doing, and the consequences of it.
If a Santa Cruz, 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 Santa Cruz, California Contested Will Attorney Help?
Contesting a will is often challenging, and never fun. However, the entire process can be made more bearable if you have the help of a knowledgeable Santa Cruz, California attorney, and the process will probably be much more manageable.