What Do You Do If The Will Is Ambiguous?
My wife told me that her dream had an important warning. She described the characters in her dream. “They were wearing red coats. Red means risk and danger,” she said. “Don’t take any unnecessary chances today.”
I’m no Sigmund Freud when it comes to interpreting dreams. But I can heed a warning. That’s part of my job. I help executors avoid risks and dangers. How does that apply to you if you are an executor?
If the meaning of the words in the will is unclear, don’t take any unnecessary chances.
How Can An Executor Interpret A Will?
Executors can’t interpret a will. That’s why there is an entire area of law dedicated to the interpretation of wills. This is legal work, which is not for executors. As an executor, you could read the will and miss problems.
You need to know a few key items that I will explain.
Executors Confused By Will’s Meaning
The meaning of a will clause can cause you problems. While you may think it is clear, it could be open to numerous interpretations.
There is not only one or absolute interpretation of what a word means. You may think that a word or phrase has a plain English meaning. But there may be other interpretations.
Estate beneficiaries can later disagree with your view. This can cause you real problems when they object. You will have trouble trying to close an estate.
As an executor, you don’t need to go to law school. But reading a will is tricky.
Executors: What Should You Do?
Here’s a pretend clause from a will: “Give all my valuable personal effects to my sons.”
The language is not precise.
You will need to hire a lawyer. Your lawyer may recommend that you ask a court for an opinion and guidance.
The interpretation is always subject to local laws, customs and recent court decisions.
For example, this clause raises some questions:
- What is valuable?
- Who decides what is valuable?
- Do sons include stepsons?
- Is the division to be equal in value?
- Can you give the coin collection to the son who collects coins?
- Must the executor divide the coins equally among the three sons?
I see executors making mistakes when reading wills. You can avoid creating problems for yourself with proper legal advice.
Some Gifts Under A Will Are Void
In some jurisdictions:
- The person’s will, if made before his marriage, may no longer be valid.
- The gift, as well as any right to be executor, would be canceled if the person was divorced.
- The gift and will may be invalid if the will is not properly witnessed.
- The will can be challenged or contested if it was made under suspicious circumstances.
Homemade wills often do not comply with legal formalities and are not valid.
Gifts under a will may not be valid for many reasons that you may not know.
You need legal advice to understand your executor duties under the will.
Don’t take a chance.
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Posted In: Wills On: June 28th, 2013