Time limits for contesting a will or revocable trust

When someone calls my office wanting to contest a will or revocable trust, one of the first questions is whether we still have time to contest it. No use going through all the details of possible forgery or undue influence if we’re two years past the time limit.

Below are the time limits applicable in Pennsylvania.

Will Contest

If someone dies leaving a will, a probate estate may be opened by submitting the will to the register of wills in the county of death. The register opens the estate by issuing “letters of administration.”

Anyone wishing to contest the will usually has one year from the time letters are issued to file an appeal. However, it’s also important to know that the court has authority to limit the appeal time to as short as three months!

Courts have allowed exceptions to the time limit in certain circumstances, including fraud, forgery, and the failure of the will’s executor to notify an interested party about the estate.

(A will may also be contested by filing a “caveat” with the register of wills, but that is done before the will is submitted in the first place by someone who hopes to prevent the register from recognizing the validity of the will.)

Revocable Trust Contest

These days, more and more people use a revocable trust (sometimes called a “living trust”) as a will substitute, mainly to avoid probate. Pennsylvania law now provides a time limit for contesting revocable trusts.

To understand the time limit, you first need to know that Pennsylvania law requires the trustee of a revocable trust to send out notices upon the death of the person who established the trust. Notice must be sent to certain people, such as the deceased’s spouse and children, letting them know some basic information about the trust. The trustee must send that notice within 30 days of learning about the death.

A person wishing to contest the validity of the revocable trust then has “one year after the date on which the trustee gave the notice” to file a petition in court. Keep in mind, though, that the law also allows the court to shorten that time limit to six months.

Act promptly

Whether it’s a will or revocable trust, it’s crucial to take action as soon as possible to preserve the right to contest.