Pennsylvania residents have been encouraged many times on this blog to engage in estate planning, including the creation of a valid and legal Will. When drafting a Will, many people let their loved ones know what to expect, which can help to prevent family disputes in the future. When the relative of a deceased person thinks the Will was not valid or legal, then he or she can contest
A Will cannot be contested simply because the person contesting it does not like what the Will says. The testator - the person whose estate is being distributed pursuant to the Will - can generally leave their estate to whoever they want or exclude others, if they are of sound mind. This means the testator should have the capacity to sign the Will, which is understanding the value of their assets, who should inherit their assets (also known as the "natural objects of their bounty") and the legal effect of signing the Will. There are certain state laws that must be adhered to as well. For example, a Will may be found to be executed improperly if it was not signed in the correct place.
One of the most common reasons that a Will is contested is because loved ones believe it was signed under undue influence while the testator had a weakened intellect. The question is whether the person exerting undue influence over the testator caused the testator to loss his or her free will. Nagging, threats and verbal abuse are generally not enough to result in a finding of undue influence but holding the original Will in safe-keeping and paying for the will could be construed to be exerting undue influence by the family member. Similarly, if the Will was procured through fraud, then it can be contested. This could be if someone thought he or she was signing another document such as a deed, but it turns out to be a Will.
Proving lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, and fraud are difficult to do when contesting a will, as the loved ones must demonstrate a number of elements to challenge the validity of a Will. If someone thinks he or she has a valid case and a loved one was coerced into signing a Will that does not accurately represent the decedent's wishes, he or she may want to consider consulting with an experienced attorney about their options.