In Topsfield, 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.
You should remember that a will contest often results in adversarial legal proceedings, which can be very contentious. Considering the likelihood that other members of your family might be on the other side, it's clear that this can really damage a person's relationship with his or her family.
When Can a Will be Contested in Topsfield, Massachusetts?
Of course, a Topsfield, Massachusetts court will not invalidate a will without a very good reason, but there are some situations which render a will clearly invalid.
For example, if the will was obtained through duress (threat of some kind of harm), then it is invalid. Duress, however, is difficult to prove. If a named beneficiary was in some position of power or trust with the decedent, and is not someone who one would ordinarily expect to get a large gift in a will, that might raise significant initial suspicion of something improper happening. Of course, those facts alone are not nearly enough to prove duress.
Another fact that might invalidate a will is the mental incompetence of the testator. Wills must be a product of a person's volition. A will cannot be truly voluntary unless the testator knows what they're doing. Accordingly, if the testator is mentally incompetent at the time he or she makes the will, the will cannot take effect. You should be aware, however, that this test applies at the time the will is made. So, if the testator is not mentally competent at the time of death, but was when the will was made, the will is valid.
So, you've succeeded in contesting the validity of a Topsfield, Massachusetts will. What happens to the property that was going to be distributed according to its terms? Generally, when a will is declared void, the decedent's assets will be treated as if he or she had died without a will. This is known as "intestacy." Usually, this simply means that the assets will be passed on to their owner's closest living relative, typically a spouse, children, siblings, or parents. If absolutely no relatives can be found, the property is passed to the state. If there is a previous will, which was revoked by the invalid will, a court might revive the old will. If the new will was found to be completely invalid (rather than just parts of it), it follows, then, that the revocation of the old will is invalid as well. Therefore, the old will can be given effect.
Can a Topsfield, Massachusetts Contested Will Attorney Help?
Contesting a will can be a complicated, emotional, expensive, and time-consuming process. There is really no way around this. However, a good Topsfield, Massachusetts wills and estates attorney can minimize these problems, and make the process as painless as possible.