When drafting a will, the will creator will likely want to plan for all possible contingencies. Unfortunately, that does not mean that all beneficiaries or non-beneficiaries will agree upon the distributions made in the will. Individuals who feel left out from a person’s will or feel that the will creator was manipulated may want to contest the contents of the will. If you or a family member wants to contest a will, you should consult with an experienced Pennsylvania estate administration lawyer today. A will contest can be a complicated and hurtful experience for a family. Our firm understands the burdens associated with will contests and is here to stand with you. Elder law lawyers from Herr Potts and Potts are here to explain whether you can contest a will after it has been probated.
How to Contest a Will After Probate
When a will is created, the creator of the will (testator) will likely choose a personal representative who will be responsible for administering the estate and submitting the will for probate. The personal representative can submit a will for probate by filing a petition with the Register of Wills. The Register of Wills must determine whether the will submitted by the personal representative is valid.
Once the will has been successfully probated, the only way to challenge the will is by appealing the Register of Will’s decision to probate the will. Normally, you would have one year to file this appeal after the will is probated. However, once the will has been approved for probate, the court will presume the will is valid. This means that a higher burden of proof is required if the will contestant wants to prove the will is invalid. Additionally, because the court is giving preference to the will, the executor of the estate or any interested party may request that your time for an appeal be limited to three months. The executor of the estate may argue that allowing the contestant a year to appeal will negatively affect the value of the testator’s estate.
An individual must also have legal standing to contest a will in Pennsylvania. This means that you must show that you could suffer harm if the probated will is honored. An example of an individual who would have the standing to challenge a will is the child of the testator who was not provided for in the will. The child would have legal standing because if the testator had died without a will, they would likely receive a portion of the estate under Pennsylvania’s intestate (dying without a will) laws. However, not all family members will have legal standing to challenge a will. For example, a niece or nephew of the testator may be considered as too estranged to expect a distribution from their relative’s will.
If you need to know more about contesting a will after probate in Pennsylvania, you should speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.
5 Grounds for Challenging a Will in Pennsylvania
There are various reasons an individual can use to contest a will in Pennsylvania. Generally, there are five valid grounds that are commonly utilized to challenge a will in Pennsylvania.
One ground for challenging a will is duress. The will challenger can allege that the testator was coerced into creating the will either by force or some other threat. A will can be found invalid if the testator was forced into leaving their estate to a particular person or organization.
Forgery is another valid ground for challenging a will. If an individual creates a will to benefit themselves or another person without the testator’s consent, this will be considered a forgery. A will must be created and signed by the testator to be valid.
Undue influence is different from duress because undue influence can be exerted without the use of force or threats. For example, if a testator is completely reliant on another person for their needs, this person may have the power to influence them into creating a will for their own benefit. An undue influence claim will usually focus on the testator’s mental state and their relationship with a person who is in a position to exert their will over them.
Lack of Testamentary Capacity
Lack of testamentary capacity means that a testator was not in the right mental state when they created their will. Examples of this could be a testator who is not aware of all the property they possess or a testator who was confused about who they are leaving their estate to.
Revoked or Amended Will
A testator may revoke or amend their will after creating it. If a will challenger can show that the probated will was amended or revoked by the testator prior to their death, they may be able to get another version of the testator’s will probated. This is important because the will challenger may be a beneficiary in a previous will or an amended will.
Pennsylvania Elder Law Attorneys Can Help You File a Will Contest
If you or a family member is considering a will contest, you should contact an experienced Pennsylvania elder law attorney today. At Herr Potts and Potts, our diligent attorneys will work tirelessly to ensure you receive the legal outcome that you deserve. To schedule a confidential consultation, call us at (610) 254-0114 or reach us online.