What’s Wrong with the Will: Five Common Sources of Confusion with Wills

Even at their most basic, a last will and testament is a complicated document. Every last detail needs to be specific and inarguable. That’s almost impossible to do, no matter how diligent the people involved are in ironing out the details. Whether you’re the executor of a loved one’s estate, a primary beneficiary, or you’re considering how to organize your own will and testament, look out for these five common areas of miscommunication.

1. Unspecific recipients

Legal jargon is specific and technical for a reason.  For instance, ‘nieces’ can include nieces by birth or nieces by marriage.  Leaving something to a former spouse should include a specific name in case of a future, second divorce.

2. Unspecific item identification

Descriptions are almost always insufficient tools for identifying a specific object. Unless an item has an inarguable name or unique identifier, there’s room for argument. For instance, if you own two pieces of real estate and merely refer to “my home,” arguments may arise as to which piece of real estate constitutes your home.  Consider listing the specific street address or other qualifying information. 

3. Version control

Every will should have a clear date. But that doesn’t solve the problem if someone insists a more recent will is somewhere out there. Good protections against this include using the same attorney’s office for each revision and documenting even informal changes with a handwritten and dated note.

4. Invalid execution

Wills need to go through a certain process in order to be considered valid. Every state has different requirements, but most need disinterested witnesses during signature and an attestation clause. Getting a will notarized can also help establish legitimacy.

5. Unrealized expectations

Most dependents, family members, or potential beneficiaries have certain expectations. If the official document gives them less than they expected, then some beneficiaries may start the process of estate litigation. Whether the protest is valid or invalid, it can add months to the process of settling an estate.

If you need help with a loved one’s estate or you want to make your will as clear as possible, contact our team at Ford + Bergner LLP.