Estate and trust litigation is a complex and often taxing process. Litigation like will contests and undue influence claims may tear a family apart. If an individual feels they were unjustly excluded from a relative’s estate, they may employ drastic methods to get their perceived share of the estate. If you or a family member are involved in litigation regarding an estate or trust, you should contact an experienced Chester County estate and trust litigation attorney.
The attorneys at Herr Potts and Potts understand how stressful the process of litigation can be and are here to represent you in your case. Our team of legal professionals possess extensive experience in estate and trust matters and will use this experience to obtain the case outcome that you deserve. To schedule a confidential consultation, call us at (610) 254-0114 or reach us online.
Pennsylvania Will Contests
Under Pennsylvania law, to challenge a will, a person must have the standing to do so. To have standing means to be invested or have something to lose. For example, if your cousin leaves the entirety of his estate to his girlfriend and excludes his four children from the will, you do not have the standing to challenge this decision because your cousin’s children did not challenge it. As a cousin, you are too estranged a relative to expect to be a beneficiary of his will.
If you do have the standing to challenge a will, you may challenge it on several different grounds, such as forgery, fraud, undue influence, a lack of testamentary capacity, or improper execution of the will.
Forgery. If a contestant can show that a deceased party’s (decedent) signature was added to the will by another person, they may be able to prevail in a will challenge.
Fraud. Will fraud can take many forms. A decedent may have been manipulated into signing a will that was not their own, or an individual may have deceived the decedent into signing a document they believed was not a will. These examples of fraud may lead to a successful will challenge.
Undue Influence. An undue influence claim can be successful by proving three factors. Whether a confidential relationship existed between the creator of the will (testator) and a person they rely on or trust. Whether the testator possessed a weakened intellect when they executed their will; and whether the person who had a confidential relationship with the testator received the lion’s share or a substantial portion of the testator’s estate. Meeting all three of these requirements will give the challenger of a will a solid chance to be successful in their will contest.
Lack of Testamentary Capacity. To execute a will, the testator must be of sound mind. To have a sound mind means to understand the implications of creating a will, be aware of the property you are conveying, and understand how and who you are conveying your property to. Old age or brief moments of confusion are not enough to show a lack of testamentary capacity.
Improper Execution of the Will. Pennsylvania law has certain requirements that must be met before a will can be validated. For example, if a will is signed but not at the end of the document, it may not be a valid will in Pennsylvania. This example and some others may sustain a will challenge.
Trust litigation typically occurs after the creator of the trust passes away, and beneficiaries of the trust disagree about the distribution of the trust’s property. Additionally, trust litigation may also arise when a trustee of a trust does not follow the trust creator’s (trustor) rules or does not act in the best interest of the trust’s beneficiaries. Here are some examples of a trustee failing to act in the best interest of a beneficiary:
- Embezzling funds from the trust
- Using trust assets to make personal investments
- Commingling personal and estate assets
- Ignoring rules stated in the trust document
- Disbursing inadequate funds to beneficiaries of a trust
This is not an exhaustive list of issues that can trigger trust litigation. If you wish to know more about estate and trust litigation and how it may affect you or your estate, you should speak with an experienced estate and trust litigation lawyer.
Chester County, PA Estate and Trust Litigation Lawyers Can Help You File Your Case
If you or a family member need help to file or to defend an estate or trust litigation claim, you should consult with an experienced Chester County elder law lawyer. At Herr Potts and Potts, we understand the complexities of estate or trust litigation, and we are prepared to guide you through your case. Our lawyers serve clients in Chester County and across southeast Pennsylvania and are ready to serve you. To schedule a confidential consultation, call us at (610) 254-0114.