Who can file a will contest under Pennsylvania law? Quick answer: only someone who would benefit financially from having the will declared invalid.
Suppose John Doe signs his first and only Last Will and Testament on his death bed. It was written by his youngest daughter, who had been his live-in caregiver for two years while he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. The document leaves 90% of his estate to his youngest daughter and was witnessed by her two best friends.
John Doe has three other children. Any of those three children could file a will contest to challenge his death-bed will. The reason is that if his death-bed will is declared invalid by the court, then his estate will pass under the laws of intestacy (which apply when a person dies without a valid will). Under those laws, John’s estate would pass in equal shares to his surviving children if there is no surviving spouse.
John’s three other children, therefore, have “standing” to bring a will contest because each would benefit financially if his will is thrown out.
In other cases, the persons named in the prior will might have standing to contest a will. If Jane Doe wrote a will in 2002 leaving her estate to persons A, B, and C, then wrote another will in 2012 (allegedly under undue influence) that leaves her entire estate to person D, then persons A, B, and C would have standing to challenge the 2012 will.
The rationale in the second example is that if the 2012 will is thrown out, the 2002 will is thereby revived (even if it had been revoked in the 2012 will) and now becomes the valid will. Thus, anyone named as a beneficiary in the prior will has standing to bring a will contest.
But in a case where the person bringing the contest would not benefit, Pennsylvania courts have thrown out the case. In one case, a non-relative was named as a beneficiary in the prior will of a decedent who destroyed the will (an accepted method of revoking a will) while the decedent had the full mental capacity to do so. The non-relative challenged a later will.
But the court, in that case, ruled that even if the later will was declared invalid, that would not revive the will that had been properly revoked with no proof of undue influence. Therefore, the non-relative would not benefit by the will’s invalidity and could not challenge it.
So before bringing a will contest, make sure you would stand to benefit from the challenged will’s invalidity.