Estate plans exist primarily so that individuals can provide for their loved ones and control what happens to their property when they die. It can be a relief for children or other family members to discover a will or other estate planning paperwork after someone dies. However, the existence of a will or other estate planning documents does not automatically mean that those papers will ultimately determine what happens to someone’s property.
Sometimes, the beneficiaries of an estate or the family members of a decedent may decide to contest or challenge an estate plan in probate court. They may believe that there are issues with the documents that undermine their legality or validity. These are the most common reasons for those who expect to inherit from an estate to challenge someone’s wishes in probate court.
Concerns about fraud or undue influence
Sometimes, what family members worry about is the possibility that someone else may have unfairly influenced or even intentionally altered the estate planning documents. Claims of undue influence often arise when a testator decides to disinherit family members or significantly reduce individuals’ inheritances for the benefit of a single person. Especially when that primary beneficiary played some kind of caregiving role, everyone else may suspect that they leveraged their authority and access to the testator for nefarious purposes.
Family members may also suspect fraud, such as forged signatures or altered documents. Such allegations could trigger a review of the paperwork and might result in the courts reverting to earlier versions or applying intestate succession laws to the estate.
Questions about testamentary capacity
To draft a valid and enforceable will, an individual needs to be a legal adult and of sound mind. Those with conditions like dementia may lack the legal capacity to create binding documents according to state law. Those with proof that someone had a disabling medical condition may be able to challenge a state planning paperwork generated after someone’s development of that condition.
Violations of probate law
Sometimes, family members know that the documents reflect someone’s wishes but they believe that those wishes violate state law. For example, individuals typically cannot choose to disinherit a spouse, as spouses have certain property rights under the law. When the terms included in an estate plan clearly violate Pennsylvania probate statutes, those disappointed with the decisions of a testator could ask the courts to intervene based on those inappropriate or illegal terms.
It can be difficult to reconcile one’s dissatisfaction with an estate plan with the desire to respect a loved one’s wishes. Learning more about why others pursue will contests might help someone feel more confident about taking similar action on their own behalf in the event that legal action is warranted.