It is allowed, in Niagara County, New York, to go to court and claim that a will is invalid, in some cases. This is called a Will Contest.
Sometimes, testators leave out of their wills people who might normally expect to inherit a large portion of the testator's estate (spouses, for instance). This might lead them to assume, correctly or not, that the will was a 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.
Bringing legal action against anyone, let alone a family member, is not a decision that you should rush into. Contesting a will, especially if another family member stands to lose out if you are successful in the contest, can permanently alter or even destroy family relationships. Obviously, this is something to consider.
When Can a Will be Contested in Niagara County, New York?
There are several reasons that a Niagara County, New York court might hold a will to be invalid.
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.
Another thing to consider is the mental capacity of the person making the will. If, at the time the will was made, the testator was insane or severely intoxicated, the will is likely to be held invalid by a court, if the underlying facts can be proven.
So, you've succeeded in contesting the validity of a Niagara County, New York 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 Niagara County, New York 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 Niagara County, New York attorney can be invaluable in helping this process go as smoothly as possible.