A person may seek to contest a will for a number of reasons. There may be legitimate concerns about the validity of the will. There may be emotions and disappointments over the contents of a will that drive people to contest it. Whatever the reasons, there must be a valid basis for contesting a will. A failure of a will to meet a person’s expectations will not, in and of itself, be found as valid grounds for contesting a will. Here, we will go over some of the common grounds used to justify a will contest.
Common Will Contest Justifications
One of the most commonly asserted grounds for contesting a Pennsylvania will is the failure of the will execution to observe proper formalities. Pennsylvania, like all states, has certain requirements for a will to be legally valid. For instance, it must be in writing and it must be signed at the end by the testator, the creator of the will. Without observing the requisite formalities, a will can be contested because of such.
A will can also be contested on the grounds of undue influence. If the will was a product of undue influence, it can be invalidated in whole or in part, if there is only a specific part of the will found to be the product of undue influence. In order to support a claim of undue influence, it must be shown that the testator was suffering from a weakened intellect at the time of the will’s execution. Evidence of a weakened intellect may present itself as the testator being persistently confused, forgetful, or disoriented, around the time of the will’s execution. The person who allegedly perpetrated the undue influence on the testator must have had a confidential relationship with the testator and received a substantial benefit under the will that is being contested.
Once the person contesting the will has proved the elements of undue influence, the will’s proponent carries the burden of proving that there was not undue influence. Thus, the proponent of the will must prove that the contents of the will were the result of a free and voluntary act by the testator who had a clear understanding of the entire transaction. If the proponent of the will can meet this burden, then the undue influence will contest will fail.
Lack of testamentary capacity is another commonly asserted basis for contesting a will. It should be noted that lack of testamentary capacity, and undue influence, can be extremely difficult to prove as it can be difficult to demonstrate the mental capacity of the testator who, at the time the will is contested, has passed away. In any case, lack of testamentary capacity refers to a testator lacking the legal capacity necessary to execute a valid will. Pennsylvania requires the testator to have intelligent knowledge as to the objects of his or her bounty as well as the general contents of the estate and how he or she wants that estate distributed. In order to prove the lack of testamentary capacity, there is usually some proof in the form of medical records showing that the testator suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or psychosis.
Pittsburgh Estate Planning Attorneys
The trusted team at Jones, Gregg, Creehan & Gerace can help guard against the potential for future will contests. Contact us today.