Occasionally, family members of a recently-deceased person in Westmoreland 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."
A will is normally 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 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.
However, this is a matter that should not be approached lightly - will contests can commonly 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 Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania?
A court in Westmoreland County, 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.
For example, a will obtained through duress (a threat of harm, normally 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.
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.
So, you've succeeded in contesting the validity of a Westmoreland County, 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 Westmoreland County, 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 Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania can be very helpful in making sure that this process goes as smoothly as possible.