From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My Grandfather, a resident of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, died of dementia 12 years ago. Shortly before his death, his will was changed giving everything to my aunt. We believed that my grandfather died broke, but now that my aunt 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 one-fourth 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 that account. 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. After one year you are no longer able to appeal that probate. This time limit makes sense, otherwise there would 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. You were an interested party because, if the will filed for probate was found invalid, you would have inherited one-fourth of the estate. You would have then also retained the right to conduct discovery and find out how the account became jointly held with your aunt.
If you have questions about avoiding Montgomery County probate, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation.