A Last Will and Testament provides direction to loved ones on how the deceased person would like their estate to be administered once all debts have been paid. This document offers helpful guidance to ensure that a loved one’s assets are distributed in the way they would have wanted. Sometimes, however, multiple wills are discovered, each detailing a distinct set of directives, and there may be no clear indication of which document best reflects the decedent’s intentions at the time of his or her death. How can the estate’s personal representative follow multiple wills? Florida law offers a solution to this unique situation. You may be able to learn more about Florida estate planning and probate from an experienced estate planning attorney with Loughlin Law, P.A. Call (561) 677-8384 for more information.
What Does Having Multiple Wills Mean?
When someone leaves behind multiple wills, it means that they have provided more than one legal document that sets out how they would like their assets administered. Leaving multiple wills can be very confusing for both loved ones and the court, particularly if the documents provide incompatible directions for asset administration.
Ultimately, the probate court in Florida will have to choose which will is valid. That might mean that the court is presented with more than one will, and the parties all agree that one is valid and the other is not. On the other hand, having more than one will sometimes leads to conflict among family or other loved ones, and interested parties may pursue litigation to contest the validity of one of these documents. Every situation is different, and consulting with a Florida probate lawyer may be a good idea. Loughlin Law, P.A. may be able to help with this frustrating situation.
What Happens if Someone Has More Than One Will?
If more than one will could potentially be valid, the probate court must determine which terms will control the probate process. In many situations, the two wills are similar, but they might have a few terms or conditions that are slightly different. The court might have to create a “hybrid” that reconciles the differences between the two competing wills. In general, the terms created last take precedence wherever the documents are in conflict, and it may not be necessary to set aside an entire older will.
This process can be very confusing and difficult for both the court and the friends and family involved in probating the will. Situations involving wills all too often result in time-consuming and costly litigation. Someone is more likely to challenge a will if it is not favorable to them, or if they feel as if the deceased’s wishes are not really being carried out.
Which Will Is Valid When There Are Multiple Wills?
A deceased individual in Florida can only have one will. In fact, § 733.208 of the Florida Statutes sets out that if a later will is found, even after the probate process, an interested party can petition to revoke the probate of an earlier will. The court strives to use the will that the deceased person intended, even if that means “undoing” work that was completed on a will that was not actually valid.
If someone leaves behind more than one will, the court must determine which will is valid. The court might consider any of the following information:
- The date on each will. In general, the most recent document is thought to reflect the deceased person’s wishes best. However, for a new will to be valid and completely govern someone’s estate, it must have also canceled or revoked any prior wills. If there is a new will, it will often state that any prior wills have been revoked.
- Amendments and changes. Someone can change an existing will instead of creating a new will. They do this by adding an amendment, which is called a “codicil.” A codicil helps individuals avoid the potential of having multiple wills. The codicil must still be written, witnessed, and signed, just like a will. Using a codicil that is dated after another will can indicate that the will with the codicil should be the valid will.
- Evidence of missing or destroyed documents. 733.207 of the Florida Statutes permits a lost or destroyed will to be submitted for probate as long as the proponent of the lost or destroyed will can prove what the will said. They generally do this by presenting testimony from two disinterested witnesses, or a copy of the destroyed will with the testimony of a single disinterested witness.
How To Revoke a Will
Revoking a previous will requires either a writing or a physical act. That is, someone can revoke a will by destroying the document. They can also revoke an entire prior will by including language in a new will or another written document that their prior will is revoked.
Because prior wills must be revoked, if you are working with a Florida estate planning lawyer it is very important to inform them about any prior wills. This information will help them ensure they include the right language to revoke a prior will so that your loved ones do not have to deal with the confusion of having more than one potentially valid will after you pass.
Why Would People Have Two Wills?
Individuals sometimes pass away with more than one will. Perhaps they lost or forgot the prior will, so they just made a new one. In some situations, the individual might not have completely decided what they want to do with their assets, so they have two wills drafted with the intention of destroying one of the wills at some point.
In most situations, the reason two wills exist is simply that the individual thought the prior will would be automatically revoked by creating the new will. However, under Florida Statute § 732.505, simply creating a new will does not automatically revoke the prior will. Instead, the prior will must be destroyed, or there must be some writing that explicitly revokes it. That writing can include a subsequent inconsistent will, but if the entire will is not revoked with specific language, only the portions that are inconsistent with the prior will are revoked. Without this extra step, individuals sometimes end up with two legally valid wills that have conflicting or different terms, which can be confusing and lead to disputes and other issues.
Get Help With Florida Estate Planning
Creating just one accurate and complete will (instead of having multiple wills) is vital to most estate plans. Loughlin Law, P.A. may be able to help with this process. Their experienced team designs wills that meet specific client needs and estate planning goals. They also ensure the appropriate steps are taken to revoke or cancel any prior wills or estate planning documents that are no longer necessary. Contact the office to learn more about these Florida estate planning services by calling (561) 677-8384.