Emotions can run high following the death of a loved one. In some circumstances, surviving family members of a deceased individual may question the validity of the deceased’s will.
Whether the survivors believe the will is incorrect as a result of a drafting mistake or the consequence of a wrongdoing, they may seek to challenge the will. In successfully contesting a will, certain procedural steps must be followed.
Determine the Proper Basis and Standing for Contesting the Will
Unhappiness or anger over the contents of a will are not legitimate reasons for contesting a will. Under Pennsylvania law, a will may be challenged only on certain limited grounds such as forgery, fraud, improper execution, or undue influence.
For a will to be valid, the testator must have been of sound mind when the will was signed. If another individual signs the will (forgery), the testator believed they were signing something else (fraud), or the testator was improperly influenced by a person receiving a substantial benefit in the contested will (undue influence), the document is not valid.
The will must be properly executed by following specific technical requirements, such as signing the will in a specific spot at the end of the document. Only certain individuals who may benefit if the will is found invalid have the proper standing to contest the will.
Promptly File the Proper Paperwork
There are two routes for challenging a will in Pennsylvania, depending on when the will is being contested. A formal written protest to the will, called a “caveat,” can be filed with the Register of Wills in the county of the testator’s last residence. The caveat must be filed before the actual will is recorded. Wills cannot go through the formal probate process once a caveat is filed.
If the Register of Wills has already validated the will, an appeal must be filed to contest the will and open the estate. An appeal to the Register of Wills is filed with a petition setting forth the basis for the challenge. Generally, probate appeals must be filed within a year of the filing of the will with the Register of Wills.
Present Your Position to the Register of Wills or Orphan’s Court
Following the filing of the contest paperwork, a discovery period will take place to allow additional information to be gathered with depositions, formal interrogatories, and other types of evidence gathering.
If the will is contested by a caveat, there will be a hearing at the Register of Wills to address the challenge before the will is transferred to Orphan’s Court. The Register of Wills has full authority to decide on the will contest at that time.
Appeals filed with the Register of Wills will be heard by a judge of the Orphan’s Court, in the Court of Common Pleas, since a decree for probate has already been issued. At that hearing, the judge will decide the matter.
West Chester Wills and Estates Lawyers at Eckell Sparks Can Help Challenge Wills
To properly navigate the difficult process of challenging a will, individuals should consult with an experienced wills and estate lawyer. If you need to contest a will in Pennsylvania, the West Chester wills and estates lawyers at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. are here to help. Our offices are conveniently located in Media and West Chester, Pennsylvania, we work with clients throughout Delaware County, Chester County, Montgomery County, and throughout the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Call us today to schedule your free initial consultation at 610-565-3701 or contact us online.