A will is an essential estate planning tool that protects your wishes and your assets. It can also provide critical direction for the loved ones left behind because without one, distribution of your assets can be left open to interpretation. Without a will, the courts will decide what happens with your estate, and this can be difficult if there is already some contention among your loved ones.
However, just having a will is not always enough to prevent arguments, doubt and confusion. In some cases, a will can be contested by parties affected by the terms and this could lead to lengthy courtroom battles and hurt feelings. In order to minimize or prevent the chances of your will being contested, you can take a few steps to make sure it is enforceable and clear.
- Take your time: A will must be written down and signed in front of witnesses to be an enforceable document, so plan this process accordingly. Additionally, don't wait until you may already be sick and in the hospital, as it could be argued that mental incapacity, fraud or coercion were factors.
- Be specific: Vague terms in a will are left open to interpretation. If one party has a different opinion what you mean, there may be reason to contest certain clauses or the entire will.
- Keep it updated: An outdated will may not reflect the state of your current relationships and wishes and therefore may be challenged. Leaving out parties like children or new spouses could prompt debate, and failure to remove clauses regarding deceased loved ones or ex-spouses could seriously jeopardize how your will is executed.
- Speak with an attorney: Having a legal representative review your will and answer any questions you may have can give you the legal context you need to make sure your wishes are accurately and clearly represented. An attorney can also spot the above-mentioned issues and others that may lead to a legal challenge.
Having a will is an important part of estate planning, but it also serves as means of alleviating some of the stress and anxiety for grieving loved ones. Making sure that your will is clear, enforceable and up-to-date can be crucial in helping to avoid conflict when it is executed.
Source: FindLaw.com, "Reasons to Challenge a Will," accessed on March 20, 2015