Contesting a Will in Pennsylvania
A last will and testament can sometimes cause disagreements within a family. There are times though, that those disputes go further than just simple squabbling. Someone may argue that the will is actually invalid and wish to contest it. In Pennsylvania, this is a possibility. However, those wishing to contest a will must fulfill certain requirements, and know the proper steps to take. An estate lawyer can help those that wish to contest a will to ensure it is done properly.
In order to contest a will, individuals need to have proper standing. These are individuals that will benefit from contesting the will. Most often, these individuals have a close relationship with the testator, or the person creating the will. A person in proper standing can contest a will so long as they have proper grounds.
Grounds for Contesting a Will
Individuals cannot contest a will simply because they don’t like the terms outlined within it. Generally speaking, people can leave their estate to anyone they wish. Pennsylvania’s legal statutes on wills though, do provide some valid reasons for contesting wills.
Forgery is the first valid grounds for contesting a will in the state. If the testator did not actually sign the will, it is not considered valid. When using this argument to contest a will, an attorney or person in proper standing will argue that the signature was forged.
Fraud is also grounds for contesting a will. If the testator didn’t understand what they were signing, or believed they were signing something else, the will is not considered valid.
Undue influence is not only grounds for contesting a will, it’s also one of the most commonly cited grounds. Undue influence is not necessarily fraud, but it does involve someone in a close relationship with the testator influencing them to create a will that substantially benefits them. When contesting a will on these grounds, individuals with proper standing will have to show that the testator had a weakened intellect and was unable to understand they were being unduly influenced or pressured.
Lastly, a will that was improperly executed can also provide grounds for contesting a will. This simply means that the testator did not fill out the documentation properly. The case of George H. Glace made headlines in Pennsylvania when his will was contested. Instead of printing his name at the top of the form, Glace signed it. This was enough to deem the will invalid.
When a will is not properly executed, the courts can reject it even when no one has contested the will.
How to Contest a Will in Pennsylvania
There are two ways to contest a will in Pennsylvania. The first is to file a caveat with the Register of Wills in the county the testator lived in at the time of their death. This will place a hold on the probate process until the grounds for challenging the will are addressed. Caveats must be filed before the actual will is filed.
Individuals that wish to contest a will can also do so after the will has been filed. They will need to file an appeal with the Register of Wills. This appeal will open the estate, allow individuals to explain why they wish to contest the will, and allow proponents of the will to argue their position. Individuals with standing have one year to file an appeal, although the court can reduce the time allowed.
Contact a Pennsylvania Estate Lawyer to Contest a Will
Anyone can create or contest a will without the help of an estate attorney in Pennsylvania. However, this is not recommended. Probate courts require that certain processes are followed, and that proper steps are taken. An attorney will know what these are, and use their experience to help anyone successfully challenge a will.
If you need to create or contest a will, contact Haggerty Hinton & Cosgrove, LLP at 570-344-9845. We can examine a person’s last will and testament, and help you understand if there are legal grounds for contesting it. We can also help you understand your own estate plan, and ensure it’s valid and non-contestable so your wishes are respected. Call today, and start planning for tomorrow.