The contestation of someone’s last will and testament has very specific guidelines surrounding it. Contrary to popular belief and basically every movie involving a will ever, you cannot contest a will simply because you do not like its terms. In the state of California, a will may be contested for four different reasons, each one of which can be very challenging to prove in court. This means that contesting a will is more often than not, a long, drawn-out matter that will take a great deal of time to resolve.
If one of the four bases for contesting a will is found to be valid, a last will and testament can be nullified. When a will is voided, it does not cancel out just one single provision. The entire will is scrapped and the courts will proceed as if the deceased never left a will in the first place.
State Law Was Not Followed When The Will Was Signed
Every state has very particular laws dictating how someone’s last will and testament should be signed. For example, in California, in order to be valid, a will must be signed by two separate witnesses who are both present at the same time, the testator themselves, and the will must be in writing. An oral will would not be considered valid.
The natural assumption would be that a last will and testament that is being taken care of via an estate attorney’s office would automatically be signed the proper way, but this isn’t always the way it happens. Neglecting to sign off on a will in the manner dictated by state laws is the most common reason for a will to be contested. It is also the most basic reason why a court would find a will to be invalid.
Testator Was Not “Of Sound Mind and Body”
The phrase “I (so-and-so), being of sound mind and body…” is a very familiar one. Despite their cliched nature, last wills and testaments begin this way for a reason. Part of a will’s validation relies on the mental acuity of the testator at the time that they wrote they will. This means that they need to be mentally aware enough to understand what they legally own, the value of what they own, and a logical heir or heirs for those assets. The testator must also understand the legal ramifications of writing and signing their own will.
Laws vary from state to state on what defines this capability which is legally referred to as “testamentary capacity”. In most states, the bar for whether or not someone is capable of doing this is not set particularly high. For instance, in California, a testator could display signs of early onset dementia and still be determined to have the necessary testamentary capacity to sign their own will. As long as they understand the important details the testator will be considered of sound mind, even if their memory is beginning to go.
In cases where testamentary capacity is questioned, the statement of those who witnessed the signing of the will becomes critical. Without a doctor’s assessment or some other formal notion of declaring the testator incompetent occurring within days of the writing of the will, the absence of testamentary capacity is very challenging to prove.
California Will and Probate Attorney
Here at Levia Law Firm, our California will and probate attorneys treat their clients like family. We have an experienced and qualified team of will and probate attorneys that have years of experience in handling estate planning issues for people and making sure that their every wish is outlined in clear, iron-clad detail. For a free consultation with one of our licensed last will and testament attorneys in California, please give us a call at (818) 703-1777 and we will be happy to go over the specifics of your case with you.