Occasionally, family members of a recently-deceased person in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania will attempt to claim that a will is invalid, typically because it leaves them out of it. This process is called a "Will contest."
A will is typically contested when a family member who expected to inherit a large amount of money or property are disappointed with the contents of the will, especially if the testator's motives are not clear. They will often assume that the will must be a forgery, or a result of fraud or force.
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 Harrisburg, Pennsylvania?
Courts in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania will not let a person contest a will unless they have an excellent reason. There are, however, some allegations which will always invalidate a will, if they are proven.
For example, a will obtained through duress (a threat of harm, typically physical) is invalid. Of course, duress is very difficult to prove after the fact, and the issue may not even come up until many years after it allegedly occurred, making proof even more difficult. However, if the named beneficiary was in some type of position of power or trust with respect to the decedent, and is not someone who one would normally expect to get a large gift in a will (they're unrelated to the testator, for example), those facts alone might be enough to raise the suspicion of impropriety. Of course, those facts by themselves are not enough to prove duress.
A will can also be rejected 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 example) at the time the will was made, the will can still be invalidated.
If the contest is successful, a court in Harrisburg, 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, typically 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. Normally, 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 Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Contested Will Attorney Help?
Contesting a will is never particularly easy or enjoyable. However, a knowledgeable Harrisburg, Pennsylvania attorney can help take some of the burden off of you, and handle some of the most difficult aspects of this process.