Many people are beginning to understand the importance of having an estate plan in place, no matter what walk of life they come from. Not only does it allow parties to determine the distribution of their estate that they worked hard to obtain, but it also helps to smooth out the transition for loved ones during what can be a difficult time.
However, along with having an estate plan in place, it is important that it contains the right up-to-date documents. In particular, it is critical that parties avoid dueling wills.
As the name indicates, dueling wills are two or more will documents for the same estate. This may occur if an estate holder creates a will and decides to revise it by creating a new one without discarding or invalidating the first one. In other cases, parties may create separate wills at different parts of their lives and again do not establish which will is the most current and in alignment with the estate holder’s wishes.
Wills must undergo the probate process, and in the case of dueling wills, the courts begin by determining which, if any, of the wills are valid. The court may begin by checking the will registry to see if the estate holder filed a will with the state. If so, that will is usually the one considered to be valid. The court may also examine the verbiage of the wills and check to see if any of the wills indicate the revocation of any previous wills. If such language does not exist, the courts may continue to compare the documents to determine if there are any factors that invalidate any will documents. In the case that the dueling will documents could all be valid, the court may examine the verbiage of the documents to see how similar they are and make a separate determination with the key aspects in mind.
In the end, dueling wills create confusion and require greater involvement from the court. Parties may avoid such issues by submitting their wills to the courts and conducting any modifications through the same channels.