Occasionally, family members of a recently-deceased person in Ephrata, 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.
As with the initiation of any other legal proceeding, contesting a will is a big decision. It can be time-consuming and expensivee. It also has the possibility to damage family relationships and foster strife among people who are already mourning the loss of a loved one.
When Can a Will be Contested in Ephrata, Pennsylvania?
Of course, an Ephrata, Pennsylvania court will not invalidate a will without a very good reason, but there are some instances which render a will clearly invalid.
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.
Because a testator must know what they are doing in order to write a valid will, the testator must be of sound mind at the time the will is made. Basically, if a person is unaware of what they're doing, and the consequences of their actions, they can't make a valid will. This can be due to mental illness, or intoxication. Of course, if it's a result of intoxication, the testator can simply sober up and then make a perfectly valid will.
So, you've succeeded in contesting the validity of an Ephrata, Pennsylvania will. What happens to the property that was going to be distributed according to its terms? Typically, 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." Normally, this simply means that the assets will be passed on to their owner's closest living relative, usually 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. Thus, the old will can be given effect.
Can a Ephrata, Pennsylvania Contested Will Attorney Help?
Because this can involve complicated legal issues, and be very emotionally draining, this is not something you want to go at alone. A brilliant lawyer in Ephrata, Pennsylvania can be very helpful in making sure that this process goes as smoothly as possible.