Dealing with Family Conflict: When a Will is Contested in Probate

The period following the death of a loved one is a difficult and emotional time. It can bring out the worst in even the closest families, especially when large sums of money are involved or someone feels slighted. An experienced probate attorney can help your family navigate the settlement of your loved one’s estate and provide a rational voice, which can help resolve conflict and get it settled in a timely manner.

Ways to Contest a Will

When a will is first submitted for probate in Pennsylvania, it goes to the Register of Wills in the county where the deceased person resided at the time of their death. A person who is contesting the will must submit a caveat, or written objection that includes legal reasons for contesting the will to the Register of Wills. If the Register of Wills has already recognized the validity of the will and has opened the estate, a contester can appeal this decision within a year of the date the will was filed with the Register of Wills. This can keep an estate tied up in probate for years, so it is important to seek the counsel of an attorney as soon as anyone contests a will.

There are several assertions that are commonly made by those challenging a will, including:

  • Undue influence
  • Incapacity
  • Fraud
  • Forgery
  • Procedural errors

What an Executor can do to Prevent Conflict

These common issues can often be avoided if an executor communicates with the family openly and often. These tips can help them understand the motivations behind the way the estate is set up and how the probate and estate settlement process works.

Have a family meeting. Let family members and other beneficiaries know that there are some decisions that will require collaboration, like dividing items with sentimental value such as family photos and other keepsakes. Listen to their input and try to look at things from their perspective, but make it clear that there are also decisions you will have to make on your own as an executor.

Bring in an objective third party. If you know from the beginning that family dynamics could cause problems in probate, consider bringing in a third party such as an estate law attorney to mediate, provide information about the process and help resolve issues with patience and detachment before any formal legal objections are made.

Proper Estate Planning Can Help Prevent Conflict

Consult your family wills and trusts attorney about including a no contest clause in your will. If you are intentionally omitting one or more heirs make sure it is clearly documented. Adding an informal memo along with your will that explains why you have set up your estate in a particular way can also help make things crystal clear. Once your estate plan is in place, having a family meeting to discuss these issues will also give your heirs an understanding of your intentions well before you’re gone.

Whether you are looking to create a solid estate plan or need assistance with a will that is being contested, our experienced attorneys At Carosella & Associates can help you resolve any legal issues you may encounter.