In Wilmington, Delaware, there is a process through which a person can challenge the validity of a will. This is known as a "contested will" or "will contest."
Occasionally, testators leave out of their wills people who might naturally expect to inherit a significant portion of the testator's estate (spouses and children, for instance). This might lead them to assume, truthfully or not, that the will was some kind of mistake.
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.
Bringing legal action against anyone, let alone a family member, is not a decision that you should rush into. Contesting a will, particularly if another family member stands to lose out if you are successful in the contest, can permanently alter or even destroy family relationships. Evidently, this is something to consider.
When Can a Will be Contested in Wilmington, Delaware?
There are several reasons that a court in Wilmington, Delaware might invalidate a will.
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 typically 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. Also, 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.
If you successfully contest the will in Wilmington, Delaware, 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 usually happen during a person's life. Usually, 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 Wilmington, Delaware Contested Will Attorney Help?
Because a will contest can sometimes involve complicated legal and factual questions, as well as some very raw emotions, a skilled Wilmington, Delaware attorney can be invaluable in helping this process go as smoothly as possible.