How to Contest a Will and WinJanuary 8, 2021
Contesting a Will
Wills are intended to provide for the orderly transfer of assets to the named beneficiaries. On occasion, however, wills have created tensions between family members and others named in the will.
What if your sibling was bequeathed a very valuable family heirloom that was supposed to go to you? Or your well-off relative promised you a portion of their good fortune, yet you were omitted from the will?
If you feel that your loved one’s will isn’t fair, do you have any options? You might. Provided you have legal standing to do so, you can contest a will in a process that’s handled through the courts. We’ll begin by looking at the circumstances that would give you a legal claim to contest the will and hopefully win.
Legal Grounds for Contesting a Will
Having a close relationship with the person who wrote the will — the testator — is viewed as a legal basis for contesting a will. Being named in the will or previous versions of it also give you a legal claim to contest a will. If you can’t prove you have legal standing, unfortunately, you’re unable to move ahead.
Consulting with an estate planning attorney can help you determine with certainty that you have legal basis for contesting. Of course, if you do decide to pursue contesting, you’ll need their experience to navigate all the legal proceedings.
Reasons for Contesting a Will
Once you’ve determined that you have legal standing to contest the will, the burden is on you and your legal team to provide valid reasons for your challenge. Any of the following conditions would allow your case to move forward:
- Testamentary Capacity: The testator lacked what’s called testamentary capacity. In other words, they were incapable of fully comprehending the implications of writing a will.
- Undue Influence: Undue influence was exerted on the testator by a relative or other party, with the end goal of getting themselves more than their fair share of assets.
- Not Written by Testator: The will was not written by the testator, making it fraudulent.
- No Witnesses: The will is not legally valid because it was not properly witnessed and signed.
- Incomplete Information: The will has signature omissions or other incomplete information.
- Additional Versions: A more recent version of the will exists.
What Happens When You Contest a Will?
In Pennsylvania, you can contest a will in two ways.
- You can challenge the will before it is admitted to probate by filing a caveat.A hearing will be held by the Register of Wills before the will is admitted to probate. Contact the Register of Wills in the county where the person died to file a caveat.
- The other way to challenge occurs after the will has been admitted to probate.This type of will contest is handled through the Orphans’ Court. There is a one-year window for contesting a will in Pennsylvania.
If you contest a will and win, you’ll gain control of the assets you were seeking. That could be money, property, or other valuables. If you were to lose the will contest, you might be sacrificing the other assets in the will you were entitled to. A will contest can be very expensive and they are not often successful. However, with the right facts, it can be very beneficial to the contesting party.
Settlement is another possible outcome of a will contest. Contesting a will delays completion of the probate process, sometimes by years, so it’s possible other beneficiaries may decide it would be in their best interest to make you a settlement offer. You may also decide settlement is in your best interest.
As you can see, contesting a will is possible, and can result in you receiving what you believe to be rightfully yours. You can increase the likelihood of that outcome by hiring an experienced Daley Zucker estate planning attorney in Harrisburg, PA.