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What to do if a loved one left more than one will

On Behalf of | Feb 27, 2024 | Estate Planning |

If you were afraid that a recently deceased loved one never got around to creating a will, you’re likely relieved when you find one. But what if you find multiple wills?

That is something that happens all too often – and usually when someone didn’t get professional estate planning help, or maybe they initially did, but then they subsequently made changes on their own. How can you be sure which one reflects their final wishes and whether that one is even valid?

What kinds of changes can create issues?

There may be lines crossed out, notes scribbled in margins or even names of executors and other administrators replaced. Fans of Succession may remember that corporate scion Logan Roy managed to create confusion among his surviving children and others in the company as they argued over whether he had intended to cross out to or underline the name of his eldest son as his successor. While the Roy family was fictional, a simple scrawled line on a legal document can be a very real problem.

Multiple wills can lead to serious family disputes for other reasons. Chief among them is when different beneficiaries and/or inheritances are listed.

Even if it seems obvious and everyone agrees on which will is the final, valid one, all wills and other estate plan documents need to be submitted to the probate court for a judge to make the determination. Generally, they determine that the most recent one will be used if it meets the state requirements. 

Why the most recent will may not be valid

Even if the will with the most recent date meets the legal requirements, you or someone else might be able to make the case that it’s not valid if it can be shown that the deceased:

  • Didn’t have “testamentary capacity” at that time to create a valid (typically due to cognitive or other health issues)
  • Made the changes because of “undue influence” by someone who would benefit from these changes
  • Didn’t make the changes themselves or knowingly consent to them

This can all be a very confusing and stressful situation at a time when your family is grieving a loss. A good first step would be to get legal guidance to help ensure that you take the appropriate actions as you try to honor your loved one’s final wishes.