April 5th, 2024

Contesting a Will in Pennsylvania: What Are the Chances of Success?

Losing a loved one is difficult and it can be even more upsetting when you discover that the terms of a will aren’t what you expected. Although you can contest a will in Pennsylvania, it is a complex process and specific requirements must be met. The chances of successfully contesting a will vary greatly depending on the facts and circumstances of each case, but the help of a seasoned probate litigation attorney is critical to increasing your chances to prevail.

The experienced probate lawyers at Gross McGinley, LLP help clients in the Lehigh Valley, and a wide surrounding area understand what’s involved in contesting a will. We guide you through the process every step of the way.

Who Can Contest a Will In PA?

Generally, any beneficiaries named in a will can contest it. This may include a spouse, children, grandchildren, and other parties such as friends and charities. Heirs of the estate who are not named in the will may also be able to contest. A minor cannot contest a will, but a parent or guardian can file a challenge on their behalf. If you’re unsure about whether you have legal standing, a Pennsylvania probate attorney can evaluate your case and advise you on your chances of successfully contesting a will.

Grounds for Contesting a Will in Pennsylvania

Before beginning the process of challenging a will, it’s important to understand that you must have sufficient grounds to do so. If there are no grounds to contest a will, the Orphan’s Court (all will challenges and most other estate matters are handled by the Orphan’s Court, a division of the County Courts of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania) may reject the challenge. Even if you feel that the will is unfair, contesting a will normally requires identifying one of the following issues as a basis to try to invalidate part or all of the will:

Lack of Testamentary Capacity

One of the most common reasons for challenging a will is a lack of testamentary capacity. This means that the person who made the will (testator) was not of sound mind and lacked the mental capacity to understand the potential consequences when creating or signing the will.

Undue Influence

A person contesting a will may allege that the testator was unduly influenced by another person when making the will. If someone coerces or puts pressure on the testator and it results in them making decisions that don’t reflect their true intentions, it could be considered undue influence.

Fraud or Forgery

If someone deceived the testator into signing something they didn’t know was a will, it could be considered fraud. In some cases, a deceased person may not have even created or signed the will themselves. If it can be proven that the document is inauthentic or the signature is a forgery, the chances of successfully contesting a will may increase significantly.

Improper Execution

In Pennsylvania, there are specific requirements for the valid execution of a will. Generally it must be written and signed by the testator. If a will does not include all required provisions and adhere to the law, it could be deemed invalid and subject to challenge. A person may also create several wills throughout their lifetime, which can lead to confusion and disputes over which will is valid or last created.

Factors that May Impact the Outcome of a Will Challenge in PA

Each case is unique, and the success of contesting a will depends on various factors, including:

  • Evidence – The strength of the evidence presented is crucial in determining the outcome of a will contest. Evidence that clearly demonstrates a lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, fraud, or forgery is more likely to increase your chances of successfully contesting a will. This evidence may include testimony from witnesses, medical records, financial documents, and any other relevant information that supports your claims.
  • Witness credibility – The credibility of witnesses, including those who testify about the testator’s mental state or the circumstances surrounding the creation of the will can significantly impact the court’s decision.
  • Legal representation – Having an experienced probate litigation lawyer is crucial to navigating the complexities of challenging a will. An experienced attorney can help gather evidence, prepare arguments, and advocate effectively on your behalf.

How a Pennsylvania Probate Litigation Attorney Can Help

If you’re interested in contesting a will a probate litigation attorney can help you file a challenge in the Orphan’s Court in the county where the deceased person resided. Generally, a will contest must be filed within one year from the date of the death.

Some wills are written with no-contest clauses, which purport to strip a beneficiary of their inheritance if they challenge a will or trust and lose the claim in court. However, in many cases such a no-contest clause may be unenforceable under the law. That’s why it’s essential to consult a probate litigation attorney if you’re considering a will contest, even if it includes a no-contest clause.

While successful will contests are rare, having a knowledgeable probate lawyer provide counsel and legal representation is critical. An estate litigation attorney can evaluate your case, advise you of your options, make the process less stressful, and may increase your chances of successfully contesting a will.

Contact an Experienced Probate Lawyer in Pennsylvania

If you need assistance contesting a will in Pennsylvania, the experienced estate litigation team at Gross McGinley, LLP, can help. To schedule a consultation with a probate attorney, contact us or call 610-820-5450.

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.