Will Contests/Caveats

A Caveat is a procedure to make representations to the Orphans’ Court about certain matters generally relating to a challenge to a Will or an individual’s qualifications for being appointed as the personal representative of the estate.  These are generally mixed questions of law and fact which can be surprisingly complex.  Moreover, it cannot be denied that these types of cases can create rifts within the family.

The following scenarios are some examples which often raise a “red flag” signaling that a challenge may be appropriate:

  • Last minute changes to a Will
  • Changes to a Will when a person is very ill, or while in the hospital, or living in a nursing home
  • The Will is changed while a person is under court guardianship
  • The Will is changed, or property disposed of, while the person was under the exclusive care and supervision of one person
  • Assets were sold well below value
  • Changes to a Will using a new attorney instead of the long-standing attorney
  • Only one child inherits under the Will while the other children are excluded
  • The second spouse inherits everything while the children from the first marriage are excluded

The attorney’s role in these types of proceedings cannot be underscored. First, there is the reality that the Orphans’ Court, the court of original jurisdiction of these types of matters, has its own set of procedural rules and evidentiary standards. Second, knowing what facts carry legal significance versus one’s that may either cloud or unnecessarily complicate the issues. Third, knowing when it is important to retain experts for such purposes as (dis)proving capacity or handwriting. Finally, your attorney is your main voice throughout the caveat process to communicate with others such that you can focus on what really matters.

Generally, as a result of certain timelines and for fear of unauthorized distribution of estate assets, there is a very short period of time to file a will contest. If you intend to file a will contest, you are encouraged to act quickly.