Troubleshooting Legal Problems

A deceased loved one left multiple wills. Now what?

Maybe you’d been gently nagging an older parent to get their estate plan in place – for them to at least draft a will. When they passed away suddenly, you were surprised to find not one will but two or even more in their files or elsewhere in their home. What should you do?

This scenario is not a terribly rare occurrence. It typically happens when someone decides to create their will on their own rather than seek legal help. They may create a will using an online site and even get it signed by witnesses as required by law.

They may then decide years later that they want to change some things, so they start from scratch, create another will and – because they can’t find the first one – store that one somewhere else instead of swapping the two versions out. Some people change their minds about things and just scratch out names or entire sections and handwrite different instructions on the original.

This can create serious family conflicts

This scenario can leave grieving families in a complicated situation. It can also cause serious conflicts. That’s particularly true if the deceased appears to have excluded someone from the will they’d previously included or maybe changed their will to leave a substantial amount to someone relatively new in their lives.

This can happen to any family. Five years ago, when singer Aretha Franklin died, her surviving family members located three wills – all handwritten – in her home. Several years later, a draft of yet another will, not signed, was located.

The court needs to weigh in

If you’ve found multiple wills after the death of a loved one, it’s important not to destroy anything. Make sure the probate court has a chance to review all of them. Typically, they’ll determine that the one with the most recent date, as long as it meets the legal requirements, will be followed. However, if there appear to be issues of undue influence or if your loved one experienced some cognitive decline in their last years, the court may determine that an earlier will is the one that should be accepted.

If you’re dealing with a case of multiple wills, it’s wise to seek legal guidance. This can help you resolve the confusion and move on with probate as efficiently as possible.