A will seems easy enough to create. All that needs to be done is to list down assets, name beneficiaries, name an executor, and all done, right? Not quite! Individuals need to be very careful how they write their wills, otherwise, they risk making big mistakes or neglect important factors that will cause probate nightmares!
This is why it’s recommended to write a will with the help of an estate lawyer who can guide the individual through the process and ensure that the will is free from ambiguity, errors, or technical issues.
Lawyers encounter mistakes in a will all the time, one of the most memorable, perhaps, is the case of the 20-year-old will with a severely ambiguous sentence that wreaked havoc on the probate process.
The Ambiguous Provision
In a will written in the 1990s, there was a provision that merely said “To Jane, I leave you my truck.” While this seems like a fairly straightforward sentence, lawyers can spot the abundance of issues here. The sentence is ambiguous because it lacks specificity. To make matters worse, the will was 20 years old and hasn’t been updated since. A lot of questions arose, such as:
Did this person have a truck when they died?
Did they have a different truck when the will was written from the truck they had before they passed?
Which truck were they talking about — the one they had in the 1990s or the most recent one?
Further, the named beneficiary, Jane, did not survive the deceased. The will did not provide any backup beneficiary, which gave rise to the issue of where the truck was going now.
These are questions that need to be answered to determine what the beneficiary will receive, or if they are unable to receive it, to whom should it be given. But because the provision was ambiguous, the court had to dig deeper and try to figure out the intent of the deceased.
The Moral of the Story
Issues like this significantly delay the probate process, which means more time and money spent. This case study shows how important it is to write a will carefully and to engage an estate lawyer to assist in the process.
A good lawyer would have never left that sentence ambiguous. They would have named the truck, for example, a 1998 Chevy Blazer. Further, an estate lawyer would have provided guidance to the writer to name backup beneficiaries in case the primary person could not receive the gift.
Provisions such as “ If I own it at the time of my death, this gift will lapse if this person has not survived me.” or “If I do not own this truck at the time of my death, this gift shall lapse.” would have made a big difference and the probate process would have gone swiftly.
When writing a will, individuals need to switch their mindset from straightforward to careful and specific. Better yet, they should engage an estate lawyer who can guide them through the process.