When someone is unexpectedly left out of a will, it is natural to question why and wonder whether it truly reflects their loved one’s wishes. Although it is possible to contest a will on several grounds, you cannot challenge it just because you do not agree with its terms. If you are considering contesting a will, an attorney can evaluate your case, explain the probate process to you and advise you of whether or not you have standing and valid grounds to challenge it.
What is Standing?
Before you can even contest a will, you must show that you have the standing to do so. This means you have to prove that you will suffer harm if the estate is divided up according to the last will and testament’s terms. For example, if your mother passes away and leaves you nothing in her will, you may have the standing to contest it because under Pennsylvania’s laws of intestate succession, children of the deceased inherit a considerable portion of an estate when there is no will.
Grounds for Contesting a Will
Once you show that you have standing, you must also demonstrate that you have grounds for contesting the will. Grounds for contesting a will include:
Forgery. If the testator (person who created the will) did not actually sign it, the will is considered invalid. Typically, the person contesting it or their wills and trusts lawyer argues that the signature was forged.
Fraud. If the testator believed they were signing a different document or couldn’t understand what they were signing, the will is not considered valid.
Undue influence. One of the most common grounds for contesting a will, undue influence involves someone who is close to the testator pressuring them to write a will that benefits them significantly. To contest a will on these grounds, you must show that a testator’s intellect was weakened and they were unaware that they were being influenced.
Lack of testamentary capacity. To contest a will for this reason, you must show that the testator lacked the mental competence to do so. is not easy to prove. If you are contesting a will for this reason, an experienced estate law attorney can help you understand what type of evidence is needed and how to prove these grounds.
Improper execution. Each state has its own laws for how a last will and testament must be created and signed. According to Pennsylvania law, a last will and testament must be in writing and be signed at the bottom of the document. Although witnesses are usually not required at the time the will is signed, for a will to be validated by Register of Wills after someone’s death, two people must verify that the signature on the will is the true signature of the testator.
If you are considering contesting a loved one’s will, the experienced attorneys at our law firm in West Chester can help you understand your rights and guide you through the process every step of the way.