Occasionally, family members of a recently-deceased person in Ambridge, Pennsylvania will attempt to claim that a will is invalid, usually because it leaves them out of it. This process is called a "Will contest."
Sometimes, when a person who expected to be included in a will is left out, their natural assumption is that there was some mistake, or that the will was made through improper means, such as duress or fraud, or that the will is an outright forgery.
If a large amount of money or property is being given away, the person left out of the will could reasonably conclude that the cost and time of a court challenge is worth 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 Ambridge, Pennsylvania?
Of course, an Ambridge, Pennsylvania 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.
If you successfully contest the will in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, 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 Ambridge, Pennsylvania 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 Ambridge, Pennsylvania attorney can be invaluable in helping this process go as smoothly as possible.