Occasionally, family members of a recently-deceased person in Philadelphia County, 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."
A will is usually 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 typically assume that the will must be a forgery, or a result of fraud or force.
If a large amount of money is involved, someone who was left out of a will, or not given what they were expecting, might believe that contesting the will is worth the time, money, and energy that doing so would require.
However, this is a matter that should not be approached lightly - will contests can often foster strife and infighting within families who are already mourning the loss of a loved one. This can permanently damage or alter family relationships.
When Can a Will be Contested in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania?
Courts in Philadelphia County, 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.
To be valid, a will must be a product of the testator's own free will. So, a will that the testator was forced or tricked into making is not valid, if the probate court finds out about the duress or trickery. Of course, wills are typically made many years before a person dies, so how can a person expect to prove duress or fraud if they suspect it? To begin with, it's not easy. It is possible, however. First of all, it's good to have as much documentation of the testator's affairs as possible. Any written statements concerning their desires on this matter will also be very useful, if there are any. Also, if the suspect gift is totally out of left field (property is left to someone that you know the testator didn't like, or barely knew, for instance), this might also support your position that the will was invalid. Of course, the testator can leave his or her money to whomever they want, so these facts, by themselves, will not be enough to prove fraud or 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 a Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania will is successfully challenged and therefore invalidated, there has to be some system for orderly distribution of the decedent's property. Usually, if a will is held invalid, all of the property will be treated as if the decedent had never written or will. This means that it goes to the decedent's closest living relative, or, if there are not relatives who can be located, the state.
Can a Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Contested Will Attorney Help?
Contesting a will is never particularly easy or enjoyable. However, a good Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania attorney can help take some of the burden off of you, and handle some of the most difficult aspects of this process.