If you thought a recently deceased loved one had never gotten around to putting a will in place, you may be relieved to find one as you’re going through their things. But what if you find another one – and maybe even a third? What if one or more of those wills has lines crossed out and notes written in the margins?
This isn’t an especially uncommon scenario – particularly when a person hasn’t used the services of an estate planning professional to create and modify their estate plan over the years.
How do you determine which one (if any) is valid?
Don’t try to do that yourself – especially if there are multiple beneficiaries who have a stake in your loved one’s estate. The probate court should decide after looking at all the documents.
Generally, the court will accept the most recent will (assuming it’s dated) as long as it’s valid under state law. Here in Nevada, a person can write their own will as long as they’re at least 18 and “of sound mind.” They must sign it in front of two witnesses who also sign it. Even handwritten wills can be valid in Nevada.
Why might an earlier will be deemed the valid one?
Remember that for a will to be valid, the person who creates it (the testator) must be of sound mind. If your loved one created a will and then later made revisions when they were in cognitive decline, those revisions would likely not be recognized. The same would be true if it appears that they made revisions under the “undue influence” of someone else. One or more heirs may have reason to believe that the updated will was created under “undue influence” by someone or was not created or signed by the deceased person at all. That’s particularly true if the latest will make significant – and perhaps unexplained — changes to beneficiaries and other terms of the previous document(s).
Multiple wills and other estate plan documents can cause family turmoil – especially if they reflect changes in who inherits assets and how much. If you’re not able to resolve these on your own, the only option may be to go to court. Before you do that, it’s wise to seek legal guidance.