What happens when someone challenges a last will and wins?

On Behalf of | Feb 20, 2020 | Estate Planning

People bring challenges against the last will of someone they love or an estate that they benefit from all the time, often due to concerns about changes made later in life. Maybe you and your siblings are suspicious of the role your stepparent played in the creation of your parent’s final will. Perhaps there were changes made in the final months, when your loved one was no longer of sound mind, that benefit no one in your family.

There are many reasons why family members or the beneficiaries of a last will or estate plan might choose to challenge the written wishes of a loved one. Concerns about undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity are common reasons why people challenge a last will.

Of course, once the courts agree not to uphold the last will or estate plan, that means there’s another big issue. If such a challenge is successful, what will then happen to an estate in Pennsylvania?

Is there an older version of the last will or estate plan?

In general, the probate courts want to uphold both Pennsylvania law and the intended legacy of your loved one. If your deceased loved one or family member had an estate plan or last will on record for years that they later adjusted, the courts may choose to honor the earlier, longer-standing plan when invalidating the final version left behind at the time of death.

Provided that family members or attorneys can produce and verify the necessary documents, the courts may choose to uphold an older version as a more accurate representation of the intentions of the deceased.

The courts may treat the estate as intestate instead

If there isn’t a previous version of the will or if a verifiable copy of an older version cannot be found, the courts may have no choice but to disregard the last will or estate plan and treat the entire estate as though the testator died without leaving an estate plan behind.

In this scenario, primary inheritance rights go to the closest surviving family members, including spouses, children and parents. Those without a legal or biological relationship to the deceased may wind up in a vulnerable position. In other circumstances, it is also possible for the courts to enter a completely unique judgment based on the circumstances brought to their attention through both the last will and statements made in court.