Maybe you tried to get an aging parent to see an attorney to put an estate plan in place – at least a will. However, they never seemed to want to think about a time when they wouldn’t be around. Now that they’re gone, however, you have found more than one will in with their papers or elsewhere in their home. What do you do?
Generally, the probate court accepts the will with the most recent date. That’s assuming that it meets the legal requirements of a valid will. For example, in Florida, it must be signed by the testator (the person making the will) and two witnesses. Further, a will that’s replacing another one should have some language to that effect at the beginning.
Could that latest will be contested in favor of a previous one?
The most common reasons that family members contest wills are because they believe:
- The testator didn’t have the cognitive ability (“testamentary capacity”) to create a will that they understood and that reflected their wishes. Maybe your loved one was experiencing cognitive decline in the months (or longer) before they died.
- There was undue influence by someone, such as a caregiver, long-lost relative or “friend” who worked their way into that person’s life and convinced them (or perhaps even threatened them) to leave them an inheritance.
- There was fraud, such as someone telling the testator they were signing something else when in fact they were signing a new will or maybe even by someone who forged their signature. If there are any significant differences between the earlier will(s) and the most recent one, you may have a good reason to be concerned.
Why getting legal assistance is wise
A good place to start is to find out if your loved one had an estate planning attorney when they created any or all of these wills. Chances are, they didn’t – or at least didn’t when they made the revised ones. People revise wills and other estate planning documents as their lives change, but these revisions should always be made properly, and with legal guidance, so that there’s no confusion about the current version.
If you’re unsure what to do or if there’s already conflict within the family over which will reflects your loved one’s most recent intentions, it’s a good idea to seek your own legal guidance prior to dealing with the probate court. This can help protect your rights and your loved one’s wishes.