DE MINIMIS PETITIONERS LACK STANDING TO CONTEST A WILL
In the Philadelphia estate litigation case of Estate of Gordon, PICS Case No. 17-0595 (C.P. Philadelphia, March 20, 2017) the Honorable John W. Herron ruled that the petitioners lacked standing to contest a will where they would have received only a de minimis amount under decedent’s prior will.
Decedent died on November 27, 2014, survived by ten children. He purportedly executed two wills during his lifetime, one in 2009 and one on May 20, 2014.
Petitioners were three of decedent’s children. The 2009 Will left $5 to each of the petitioners, and the residue was divided among decedent’s other seven children. The 2014 will left nothing to any of the petitioners, and that will made some specific bequests and divided the residue among the other seven children and three grandchildren of the decedent. The court admitted the 2014 will to probate.
Petitioners appealed the dismissal of their fourth and fifth petitions to contest the will. The fourth petition alleged decedent acted under duress, undue influence, or lacked the capacity to make the 2014 will. Respondent, executor of the estate, filed an objection arguing petitioners lacked standing to challenge the probate of the 2014 will, because under the 2009 will they were left $5 each, an amount too small to confer standing. Petitioners failed to respond and the court granted that objection. Petitioners then filed a fifth petition, but respondent objected because it was filed more than one year after the statute of limitations for appeals relating to wills. In response, petitioners pointed to allegedly fraudulent conduct.
On appeal, the court held that petitioners’ fraud allegation lacked specificity and was not sufficient to set aside the one year time period. Additionally, petitioners alleged no facts suggesting that they had only recently received information relating to the purported fraud. Simply including the word “fraudulent” in a pleading was not enough to extend the one year limitation.
The court agreed with respondent that petitioners lacked standing. Under the 2009 will, petitioners each received $5. Under the 2014 will, none of the petitioners received anything. In order for their beneficiary status under the first will to confer standing, the court concluded it must be a substantial interest. The $5 bequest to each of the petitioners in the 2009 will effectively disinherited them. The court held that such a de minimis bequest did not grant standing to challenge the subsequent will.
Petitioners argued that respondent never served the previous preliminary objections on them, so they did not have proper notice. The court held that whether or not petitioners received notice of the prior objections was irrelevant because they lacked standing.
Finally, petitioners asserted that decedent was actually domiciled in Georgia, so the court did not have jurisdiction. Because petitioners did not raise this issue until the appeal, the court held they had waived it.
Reference: Digests of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 40 PLW 481 (May 23, 2017)