Often, people believe their estate planning needs are simple and don’t require getting an attorney involved. It’s certainly easy to find do-it-yourself estate planning documents online. However, every estate plan (even a simple will) needs to be as unique as the person creating it. That’s one reason why making your own will or even using a software program doesn’t do your family – or you – justice.
Another problem with not getting legal guidance with your estate plan is that it’s too easy to create ambiguity. You may know what you mean. However, if your wishes are not clear to others, you can create conflict and confusion. If a probate judge is called on to decide the matter, they may interpret what you wrote differently than you intended.
Two types of ambiguities can be present in any legal document: patent and latent. Let’s look at some examples of each as they apply to wills.
A patent ambiguity is when wording can be interpreted in more than one way or is too vague to understand what the writer meant to say. For example, someone might say they want to leave $10,000 to “Jackson Animal Rescue,” but that’s not the actual name of any group. Or they might get the name of the organization right but put $10 instead of $10,000 by mistake.
Another example is contradictory provisions. Someone might say in one spot that they want their granddaughter to get their entire jewelry collection. However, in another provision, they might designate that certain pieces of jewelry are to go to a niece.
This type of ambiguity occurs when something can be interpreted in more than one way. For example, someone says they want to leave their RV to their nephew David. However, they have two nephews – one whose first name is David and the second whose middle name is David. That second nephew can argue that he sometimes goes by the name David.
If an executor can’t determine what the decedent’s wishes were, or if heirs are arguing over the intent, the matter will likely end up in a will construction proceeding where a judge will interpret based on the wording (and perhaps other evidence) what was intended.
You can avoid putting your loved ones through this and ensure that your assets go to the people and organizations you intend by working with an experienced estate planning attorney.