Grounds for Contesting a Will in PennsylvaniaDecember 1, 2021
According to Pennsylvania law, anyone at least 18 years or older and of sound mind can create a will. With these criteria, you can contest a will only if you have legal grounds to do so. If you do, you’ll have to prove that the will was not legally valid or that it shouldn’t be followed based on other grounds.
If you plan on contesting a will, you’ll need the help of a will attorney in Pennsylvania to guide you through the process and make a strong case. The process can be incredibly complicated due to Pennsylvania’s laws for intestate succession and other complexities that may be found in executing the will. Here is what you need to know:
Who Has Legal Standing to Challenge a Will?
Even if you are confident that a particular will isn’t legitimate, you cannot act on it if you don’t have legal standing. You must demonstrate that you will suffer harm or injury if the court honors the will and divides the estate according to its terms.
It’s important to note that familial ties are not strong enough to give you legal standing as your only grounds. In the 2012 case of the Dupont will, the Pennsylvania court ruled that a niece and nephew did not have the standing to challenge their deceased uncle’s will because he had not left them anything in his two previous wills. Since the intestate succession laws wouldn’t have left them with anything either, they didn’t have much to lose, which is why they had no legal standing.
Grounds for Challenging a Will
Once you and your lawyer have proven that you have standing, you must also demonstrate that you have grounds for challenging a will. The law mandates that the testator, or the person writing their will, must be of sound mind for it to be valid. However, the court may accept other situations as grounds for a will contest.
Such a scenario includes a person who isn’t of sound mind creating a will when his mental capacity has deteriorated to the point that they are unaware of what they are doing. An example of this is someone suffering from dementia writing a will, who may have left out important family members they would have included if they were of sound mind.
Another example is that a person may not be of sound mind to write a will if he is excessively influenced or forced by someone else to write the will in a particular way, like a controlling partner or caretaker. Other reasons for an invalid will include fraud, forgery, or failure to make the will correctly. It can also be invalid if it violates a legally binding contract.
How to Contest a Will
Luckily, there are many ways to contest a will in Pennsylvania. If you are the deceased’s spouse, you can choose to take one-third of their estate if their will leaves you with less than that. However, you need to act on this quickly, as you have only six months from the date of the will going into probate to make the decision or six months from the date of death, whichever occurs later.
Probate is the process of formally distributing the estate according to the will’s terms. If you have standing and grounds to contest it, you can challenge the will even during probate proceedings by submitting a caveat with the county’s Register of Wills. Depending on the situation, you may have to post a bond to keep your caveat from expiring in 10 days and pay for court costs resulting from the caveat.
Lastly, if the will has already been probated, you can submit an appeal from probate in Orphan’s Court. You have a year to file this, but the court may limit this to three months, depending on the situation.
Work With a Will Attorney in Pennsylvania
Challenging a will without any legal assistance can be tricky, as the burden of proof is very high in these cases. By working closely with a will attorney, you’ll vastly increase your chance of success.
DaleyZucker is a team of experienced estate planning lawyers in Pennsylvania. We specialize in various areas, such as family law, estate planning and administration, administrative law, and more. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you challenge a will.