The distribution of an estate’s final assets can sometimes lead to contentious disputes among beneficiaries, and between beneficiaries and the personal representative of the estate. (An administrator or executor.)
The complexity of such a situation can make it extremely difficult to achieve a resolution that’s in accordance with the decedent’s wishes. During these times, the services of an experienced estate litigation attorney can prove invaluable.
Who Can Contest a Will?
An individual challenging the will must have a legitimate interest in the estate (e.g., being a beneficiary of the will, an heir of the decedent, or anyone who stands to inherit under the will.) Dissatisfaction with the distribution plan is generally not grounds for a will contest.
Reasons to Contest a Will
There are a number of scenarios under which wills are contested. They include:
Lack of testamentary capacity
The person writing the will (the testator) is required to have mental competency to make a Last Will and Testament to understand the nature of his or her estate assets and the intended distribution thereof. A will can be declared void if it can be proven that the testator was not of “sound mind”.
A will can be invalidated when the testator is compelled or coerced to execute it. Undue influence can be exerted by a number of people, including a relative, friend, trusted advisor, or health care worker.
Revocation of will
In Pennsylvania, a will can be revoked by a later will, codicil, or other writing. Such revocation can be grounds for a will contest.
Improper execution of will
A will can be contested on the basis that it was not properly drafted, signed, or witnessed in accordance with the law. In Pennsylvania, a will does not need to be witnessed (unless the testator cannot sign the will or can only sign it with a mark.)
In Pennsylvania a will can be contested if it was the result of fraud. However, in order to invalidate the will, the fraudulent act must have the effect of misleading the testator, which can occur only if the testator relies on it.”
Sometimes the authenticity of the decedent’s signature on a will is called into question.
When a will is contested under these circumstances, handwriting experts and/or other document examiners are typically called upon.
When a will is vague and lacks specific details it is difficult to ascertain the testator’s intent. More than one beneficiary may believe that they are entitled to certain assets, making legal disputes inevitable.
Breach of fiduciary duty
The personal representative of an estate owes the beneficiaries of that estate certain duties such as honesty, prudence, and loyalty. Violations of those duties by the representative, can give rise to a legal challenge.
The attorneys at Comitz Law Firm, LLC are experienced in all areas of estate litigation.
In addition to will contests, we handle:
- Disputing will interpretations
- Rights of a surviving spouse
- Disputing estate accounts
- Disputing estate surcharges
- Litigation related to kinship disputes
- Reformation of instruments
- Breaches of fiduciary duty
- Removal of fiduciaries