If you believe a loved one’s will is invalid or the result of someone’s misconduct, you may want to contest the will in court. However, this is not an easy process, especially if you’re not sure what evidence you need to prove your claim. What you need is an experienced attorney that can help you with the process.
For decades, the Pennsylvania estate litigation attorneys at Fellerman & Ciarimboli have helped clients throughout the state with their estate issues. We will listen to your story, examine the circumstances surrounding the creation of the will, and suggest your next steps. If necessary, we’ll represent you in court to show why the will is invalid.
Challenging a Will: What You Need to Know
Let’s say your aunt has passed away and left the bulk of her estate to her caretakers. It seems odd – why would she leave her estate to strangers instead of her family? It feels like something is amiss, and you decide to contest the will.
First, you need to know that not everyone can challenge a will. The individual needs to have “standing” to contest the will, i.e., someone who would either inherit or lose something under the will if it was deemed invalid. You do not have to be named a beneficiary in the will to challenge it.
There is also a statute of limitations in contesting the will. If the estate is in probate, you must file a caveat with the Register of Will before it enters probate. However, if it’s heading for probate, you need to wait before appealing. You have up to one year after the decision to contest the will. Failure to file an appeal after a year and the court will dismiss your claim.
Grounds for Contesting a Will in Pennsylvania
According to Pennsylvania law, you need to have a valid reason why you believe the will is invalid. You cannot just contest it because you feel it’s unfair. In Pennsylvania, you can challenge a will on the following grounds:
Mental Capacity: If an individual is not of sound mind at the time he/she is creating a will, this can be grounds for a will contest. Some examples include the individual not knowing he/she was making a will, doesn’t understand the consequences of his/her actions, or is even aware of the property he/she owns or controls.
Undue Influence: Was the individual coerced or under duress when creating the will? If this occurs, it may be a case of undue influence. Undue influence occurs when a person who is in a position of control over a vulnerable person’s care or finance can easily influence that person during the estate planning process. It is not only a family member – it can be a caretaker or organization.
Fraud or Forgery: Does the signature look off? Did you find another will that has different information? If someone forges the will or fraud has taken place, you will need proof.
Errors With the Will: If the will had been prepared or signed improperly, even without fraud or undue influence, you might be able to contest it. For example, if a signature is not present at the end of the document, this makes the will invalid.
Will Contest Exceptions
What if you’re the spouse of the deceased and are dissatisfied with the will? Then you have the right to “elect” to take one-third of the deceased’s estate instead of the share as defined by the estate. But take care in exercising this right – it’s a very complicated situation and can affect the surviving spouse’s right to property, receive life insurance, investments, and employment rights established by the deceased spouse.
If the now-deceased person owes an individual something, and the debt is valid, then the creditor can sue the estate to recover the debt, no matter what the will states. But like contesting the will, the creditor will need proof of the outstanding debt.
Contesting a Will? Fellerman & Ciarimboli Can Help
For decades, the estate litigation attorneys at Fellerman & Ciarimboli have been helping clients across Pennsylvania with their estate planning needs. We understand the complexities these situations are and treat each case with the sensitivity and strict attention to detail. We will work hard to make sure you know the process and will fight on your behalf.
If you are considering contesting a will, creating an estate plan, or setting up a trust, don’t wait much longer. Contact a Pennsylvania estate lawyer at Fellerman & Ciarimboli today to set up a free consultation.