Writing a will has got to be easy. You just list your property and decide who receives what, right? Not necessarily. In reality, the process of writing a will is not that simple. Generally, a will is only interpreted once the author is no longer with us; if the language of your will is unclear, or your loved ones believe that you didn’t really mean what you said, chaos can ensue.
For example, in one California case,* a woman created a handwritten will that left a ten dollar gold piece and her diamonds to her niece. Everything else that she owned, all real and personal property, was left to a close family friend—and Roxy, her Airedale Terrier. Since property cannot be left to an animal, the author’s loved ones took the will to Court. The family friend argued that the deceased intended to leave all of her real and personal property to him, while the niece argued that she should get Roxy the terrier’s half as the deceased’s sole heir. Since the document itself was silent as to what she wanted to happen in this situation, the Court had to determine what the author meant to say.
If the Court determines that, after looking at the facts of your case, the language of the will is susceptible to two or more meanings, outside parties are allowed to present evidence to prove what the author meant to say. This means that the author of the will loses control over the document. In the case mentioned above, the family friend received half of the property and the niece received the other half. It is anyone’s guess as to whether the deceased would be happy with that result.
If you want to avoid that type of loss of control, it is best to speak to an attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you develop a will that is clear and unambiguous. Also, an attorney can help you determine what will happen if your chosen beneficiary passes away before he or she can receive the property. There are many situations that can complicate the way your will is interpreted, and it is best to think ahead and be prepared.
Wills can have a lot of moving parts; make sure you get the best advice possible. The attorneys at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri have decades of experience handling complex estate planning matters including wills and living trusts. If you are interested in developing an estate plan or reviewing your current estate plan, contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri for further information.
Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.
*In re Estate of Thelma L. Russell, 69 Cal.2d 200 (1968).