In North Bay, Florida, 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 a large amount of money is involved, someone who was left out of a will, or not given what they were expecting, might believe that contesting the will is worth the time, money, and energy that doing so would require.
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 North Bay, Florida?
There are several reasons that a court in North Bay, Florida 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.
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 you successfully contest the will in North Bay, Florida, 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 North Bay, Florida Contested Will Attorney Help?
Because a will contest can sometimes involve perplexing legal and factual questions, as well as some very raw emotions, a skilled North Bay, Florida attorney can be invaluable in helping this process go as smoothly as possible.