In Deerfield, Massachusetts there are certain procedures allowing certain people to challenge the validity of a will. This is known as a "will contest" or "contested will."
Sometimes, 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 example). This might lead them to assume, truthfully or not, that the will was some kind of mistake.
If there is a large amount of money or property at stake, a family member who was left out of the will might find it to be worth the time or money to contest it.
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 severe and irreversible damage to family relationships.
When Can a Will be Contested in Deerfield, Massachusetts?
A court in Deerfield, Massachusetts will not entertain a will contest unless there is a very good reason to do so. However, there are some allegations which, if proven, clearly invalidate a will.
For example, a will which was not made under the testator's own volition and free will is not valid. This means that the testator must be acting voluntarily throughout the entire process of making his will. Therefore, a will made under duress (force, or threat of force) will not be given effect. In order to show duress, you generally need to first prove that the person named in the will was in a position of trust and power over the decedent, and that they are an "unnatural beneficiary" (someone who you would not normally expect to receive a gift under a will, usually because they are not related to, or close friends with, the testator). These facts, taken alone, are never enough to definitively prove that duress occurred. They are, however, usually enough to suggest that something strange is going on, and warrant further investigation.
A will can also be rejected 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 example) at the time the will was made, the will can still be invalidated.
If the contest is successful, a court in Deerfield, Massachusetts 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, usually 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. Typically, 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 Deerfield, Massachusetts Contested Will Attorney Help?
Because a will contest can sometimes involve difficult legal and factual questions, as well as some very raw emotions, a skilled Deerfield, Massachusetts attorney can be invaluable in helping this process go as smoothly as possible.