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Challenging a Will in Pennsylvania: Undue Influence and Lack of Capacity

Posted on Thu Feb 12, 2015, on Will Contests and Will Challenges

From our “Ask a Question” Mailbag: Undue Influence and Lack of Capacity Will Challenges PA

Most Recently Updated July 10, 2018.

“My father just died. He was sick for some time, and my sister moved in with him. The will, however, was changed about two months ago leaving everything to her and nothing to me. Everything was supposed to be split 50/50. What can I do?”

Will Contests

Undue Influence and Lack of Capacity Will Challenges PA

Undue Influence and Lack of Capacity Will Challenges PA

Not all family and friends are perfect. And in some cases, they can be downright malevolent. Ensuring family members and loved ones are not unfairly left out of a decedent’s Will is a common concern.

Modern medicine has vastly increased the average lifespan. Sadly, science has not solved every problem, and one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or dementia. These diseases affect a person’s judgment, memory, and cognitive functions, often reaching the point where a patient may completely lose the capacity to develop or revise their estate plan. In some cases, loved ones take advantage of this weakened intellect for personal gain.

In Pennsylvania, two safeguards protect the testator from being taken advantage of in this manner.

Safeguard of Capacity

First, to write or revise a will, the testator must have the capacity to do so. Among other requirements, capacity means the testator must understand their actions including, the nature of their property, their family and personal relationships and the effect of the will on both the property and persons. After a certain point, individuals with Alzheimer’s may lose the total capacity to revise or create an estate plan. In other cases, knowledge of a partially weakened mental state causes a beneficiary to exploit this condition for their gain.

Safeguard Being Free of Undue Influence

Undue influence is a legal claim against a beneficiary who had a special relationship with the testator. Greatly simplified, claiming the special relationship was used to manipulate the testator’s estate plan for personal gain. So, there are three factors must be established to establish a claim of undue influence:

  • Confidential relationship between decedent and beneficiary
  • Decedent had weakened intellect
  • A substantial benefit to the beneficiary exerting undue influence

More on Undue Influence

Cases involving undue influence are sensitive for many reasons. Therefore, both the interpersonal aspect and factual assertions can be uncomfortable. To ease the tension, one potentially can simply establish the confidential relationship factor. At that point, the burden of proof shifts to the person holding the confidential relationship to rebut the claim of undue influence. However, an experienced probate attorney can provide guidance and a neutral interface in addressing contentious undue influence and lack of capacity challenges.

Further Will Contest Questions?

Undue influence and Lack of Capacity are parts of the Will Contest process. By all means, if you want to learn more, please read my more detailed article, Will Contests and Will Challenges All You Need to Know.

In Conclusion: Undue Influence and Lack of Capacity Will Challenges PA

I hope that this article was helpful in explaining will challenges. Further, I included links to even more detailed information on my website. Therefore, please contact me and let me know how I did. Certainly, your comments and questions are welcome!

Let our Will Contest Lawyers help walk you through what can be a confusing process. To begin with, call to speak to one of our experienced Will Contest Attorneys.  By all means, our lawyers are ready to answer your questions. In fact, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation. Ultimately our goal is to put our 25 years of estate litigation experience to work for you.

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Lack of Capacity, Pennsylvania, Undue Influence, Will Challenge Attorney, Will Challenge Lawyer, Will Challenges

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