People are often eager to get through the estate planning process as quickly as possible, reluctant to dwell on what will happen when they are no longer living. While the creation of a will is a great first step toward providing for your family, you may have unintentionally made errors in the document that can cause significant problems if they are not corrected during your lifetime.
Check Your Will for These Common Errors
Many people take a “set it and forget it” approach to estate planning, assuming that their worries are over the moment their wills are signed and dated. Unfortunately, standardized wills generated by websites, cheap software, or unqualified attorneys can be riddled with errors which may not be discovered until after your passing.
Here are some of the most common errors in estate planning documents:
- Ambiguities. Ambiguity occurs when the language or phrasing is unclear or could be interpreted in several different ways. For example, the will may designate one person as the sole beneficiary, but assign property to others later in the document.
- Unclear designations. It is crucial to clearly identify the people who will inherit your property and administer the estate. However, the language used in these designations may be ambiguous, such as naming “my sister” as executor when you have more than one living sister.
- Typos. Grammatical and numerical typos can call the true intent of provision into question. For example, if the will contains a donation to a charity in the amount of “four hundred (4000) dollars,” it may be difficult to determine how much the decedent intended to donate.
- Incomplete information. A will may include provisions for children, but fail to accurately name each child, leaving room for children born outside the marriage or from previous unions to come forward.
- Failed gifts. The decedent’s intentions may be subverted if a gift cannot be distributed to a beneficiary as written in the will. For instance, the decedent may bequeath a certain property to his brother. Three years later, the brother dies, but the will is not updated. When the decedent passes, there could be several potential claimants to the property: the decedent’s spouse or children, the brother’s spouse or children, or a contingent beneficiary.
- Outdated information. Wills should be revised regularly to ensure accuracy. Otherwise, a will may bequeath possessions that the decedent no longer owns, leave money and property to ex-spouses, or exclude children who were born after the will was drafted.
How to Resolve an Ambiguity in a Will
Will drafting is a complex process, especially if the person drafting the will does not have any previous experience in estate planning. A simple mistake can change the meaning of a sentence or even the entire document, resulting in unintended consequences for your property and loved ones.
Our attorneys can help at every stage of estate planning, including:
- Creation. The best solution for many mistakes is to prevent them from happening in the first place. If you have no existing will, our estate planning attorneys can create a binding document from the ground up, allowing your wishes to be followed to the letter.
- Revision. If it has been more than a few years since you created your will, our legal team can examine the original document, identify potential errors, rewrite it for clarification, and provide updated information to keep your plan current.
- Interpretation. When a provision of a will is not clear, the executor may ask the court to clarify the provision. If the beneficiaries or heirs do not agree on the interpretation, or if the court decides the will cannot be interpreted, the interested beneficiaries may enter litigation to challenge the will. Our attorneys can assist executors in defending a will or advise beneficiaries on their best way forward.
You can greatly reduce the odds of a long and frustrating legal battle after your death by involving an experienced and thorough estate planning attorney. Whether you have already created your will or are looking for clarification, our legal team can help protect you and your loved ones for years to come. Contact us today to speak to an attorney about your estate plan.