It is possible, in Onondaga 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 considerable 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 Onondaga County, New York?
A court in Onondaga County, New York 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.
Another reason why a will might be invalid is the maker of the will being mentally incompetent at the time the will was made. In order to make a valid will, the person making it must have enough of his or her mental faculties to understand what they're doing, and the consequences of it.
So, you've succeeded in contesting the validity of an Onondaga County, New York will. What happens to the property that was going to be distributed according to its terms? Usually, 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." Typically, this simply means that the assets will be passed on to their owner's closest living relative, normally 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. Consequently, the old will can be given effect.
Can a Onondaga County, New York 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 knowledgeable Onondaga County, New York wills and estates attorney can minimize these problems, and make the process as painless as possible.