From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My father, a resident of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, died of dementia 12 years ago. Shortly before he died, his will was changed giving everything to my cousin. We believed that my father died broke, but now that my cousin died, we found out that he had a joint account with her containing a large sum of money. The prior will states that I would receive ¼ of his estate. Can I challenge the will?
First, a will challenge case alone based on incapacity or undue influence, even if successful, would not help you. You stated that the funds were in a joint account. A joint account passes outside of probate, meaning the will has no effect on the joint ownership. To be successful, you would first have to prove that the joint account was created improperly-perhaps under undue influence or forgery-so that the assets would pour into the estate. Then you would have to prove that the existing will was invalid.
Unfortunately, you have waited too long to pursue the case. Will challenges or will contests must be brought within one year of the Will’s probate with the Register of Wills. A Will challenge is an appeal from that probate, and after one year you are no longer able to appeal that probate. This time limit makes sense, otherwise there never be a way to be sure that estate assets could be sold without a future challenge. If you had acted within one year you could have challenged the will.
If you have questions about avoiding Delaware County probate, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation.