Occasionally, family members of a recently-deceased person in Berwick, Pennsylvania will attempt to claim that a will is invalid, normally 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 massive 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 Berwick, Pennsylvania?
A court in Berwick, Pennsylvania 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.
One big reason to invalidate a will is the fact that the will was made under duress. "Duress" simply means forcing somebody to do something they don't want to, using some kind of threat. Normally, the threat involves some type of physical harm. The most obvious example would involve putting a gun to somebody's head and telling them to write a will containing the terms desired by the gunman. Such a will, assuming the underlying facts can be proven in court, will never be valid. Of course, the validity of a will rarely becomes an issue until the testator has died, which may be years after the will was drafted. This means that proving the circumstances under which the will was made can often be very difficult. However, there are certain facts, such as the devise being to an "unnatural" beneficiary (somebody the testator didn't know very well, for instance), and the beneficiary being in a position of power over the decedent, are enough to at least create a suspicion that something is wrong.
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.
If you successfully contest the will in Berwick, 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 normally happen during a person's life. Normally, 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 Berwick, Pennsylvania Contested Will Attorney Help?
Contesting a will is often hard, and never fun. However, the whole process can be made more bearable if you have the help of a reliable Berwick, Pennsylvania attorney, and the process will probably be much more manageable.