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The grounds on which Wills can be contested

Why might Pennsylvania residents contest a Will? When a loved one passes away, whether the death was sudden or the result of a long illness, there may be a strain on the family. The review of the decedent's Will may add another layer to the emotional turmoil if family members are surprised by its contents or do not agree with it. Is that surprise or lack of agreement about the terms enough to contest the Will?

There are several grounds to contest Wills. One of the grounds on which a Will can be contested is that it was not signed in accordance with state law. An old Will signed in New York may not adhere to Pennsylvania law, making the Will invalid.

Another common ground for Will contests is that testator, the person signing the Will, lacked testamentary capacity when the Will was signed. This may mean, for example, that the testator, due to dementia, did not understand that he was signing a Will or did not know the natural objects of his bounty, usually his spouse or his children, or did not know the nature of his assets.

Other grounds for contesting Wills can include undue influence, fraud or forgery. One family member may think the Will was signed as a result of undue influence on the testator by another family member. To prove undue influence, it must be demonstrated that the testator had a weakened intellect which caused him to give in to the influencer's wishes rather than putting his own decisions in the Will. Or, a family member may think that the Will was procured by fraud, and the testator was tricked into signing it. Or, a family member may have forged the testator's signature on the Will. However, since it is not possible to question the testator, who is now deceased, it is left up to the witnesses to prove these grounds, which can be difficult.

Contesting a will is not an easy path to embark upon and may cause legal disputes among family members during an emotionally difficult time. It might be beneficial to consult an experienced Orphans' Court attorney for guidance.

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