Sometimes, family members of a recently-deceased person in Butler County, 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."
Occasionally, 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 rationally conclude that the cost and time of a court challenge is worth it.
Bringing legal action against anyone, let alone a family member, is not a decision that you should rush into. Contesting a will, particularly if another family member stands to lose out if you are successful in the contest, can permanently alter or even destroy family relationships. Evidently, this is something to consider.
When Can a Will be Contested in Butler County, Pennsylvania?
There are many reasons that a court in Butler County, Pennsylvania might invalidate a will.
For instance, 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. Thus, 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.
A will can also be denied because the decedent was not mentally competent to draft it at the it was made. A court will look at the person's mental capacity at the time the will was made, so even if the testator is now perfectly sane, if he or she was incapacitated for whatever reason (by way of intoxication, for instance) at the time the will was made, the will can still be invalidated.
If the contest is successful, a court in Butler County, Pennsylvania might find the will or part of it invalid. Of course, that leaves the question of how to distribute the property in the absence of a valid will. All states have laws that address this situation, normally passing the property to the decedent's closest living kin. All states have laws governing the order in which property is passed on in this manner. Usually, it goes to the spouse first. If there is no living spouse, it goes to the children. If there are no children, it goes to the decedent's parents, and so on. Most laws on this subject are written in such a way that almost everyone will have at least one relative entitled to inherit, even if that person is very distantly related to the decedent. In the very rare case where no living relatives exist, or none can be found, the decedent's assets usually go to the state.
Can a Butler County, Pennsylvania Contested Will Attorney Help?
Contesting a will can be a difficult, emotional, expensive, and time-consuming process. There is really no way around this. However, a seasoned Butler County, Pennsylvania wills and estates attorney can minimize these problems, and make the process as painless as possible.