From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My neighbor promised to give me her Philadelphia house in her will. She died recently and her son, who did not talk to her for 10 years, has filed a Will from the 1970s that gives him everything. Can I challenge that will?
If I understand the facts correctly, your neighbor died and — to the best of your knowledge — her most recent will was the one her son filed with the Philadelphia Register of Wills. That will is very old, but — again, as far as you know — is the most recent Will she signed. Though she verbally promised to give you the house in Philadelphia, she failed to write a new will that backs up your claim.
If these are the facts, then you will not be able to successfully challenge the will for two reasons.
First, just because your friend promised to make a will, that promise did not give you any legal right to the house. Second, to file a Will Contest in Philadelphia, you have to have standing. This means you have to be recognized as an interested party. In this case, even if you successfully challenged the 1970s will and had it thrown out for being a forgery or because of undue influence, then your friend would be found to have died without a will, a situation you’ll hear lawyers refer to as “intestate.”
Under Pennsylvania intestacy rules the house would pass to your friend’s descendants, but not to you. Because there is no way that you would gain from a Will Contest, the Orphans’ Court judge would find that you did not have standing and would dismiss your case.
If you’re reading this because you think you might find yourself in a similar situation, consider asking a friend to memorialize their intentions in a new will. If you have questions about Estate Planning and Litigation in Philadelphia County, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation.