Ambiguous Wills & Trusts

Ambiguity in the Will or Trust

When there appears to be ambiguous language in a will or trust, the executor or trustee (fiduciary) will customarily hire a New York probate lawyer to clarify the language. The attorney will be able to explain any provisions that the fiduciary finds confusing or may not understand. One common reason for an ambiguity, is that there may be information missing.

However, if it is determined by the estate attorney that a provision of a will or trust is invalid, the attorney will also advise the fiduciary what steps must be taken next to help resolve the issue. Also, a fiduciary will hire an NYC estate litigation attorney to represent the estate when a beneficiary or heir files a litigation suit against the estate contesting or challenging a will or trust.

The party making the challenge must file a motion with the New York Surrogate’s Court. Sometimes it is necessary to call witnesses to the will or trust or the attorney who drafted the provisions to clarify the decedent’s intentions. The Court has the power to decide whether a provision is ambiguous and should be stricken from the document or whether an entire document is invalid. After hearing all the evidence, the Court will make a final decision.

Let’s say your dad made a will where he bequeaths you $10,000 from his savings account at Bank of America and leaves your sister $10,000 from his IRA. However, at the time of your dad’s death, there is only $100.00 in the Bank of America account. Your estranged sister who has had no contact with your dad for 10 years gets to inherit more of your dad’s assets. Since you don’t think this is fair because you physically took care of your dad the last year before he died, you hire a New York probate and estate attorney and file a will contest matter.

At the hearing you present a letter from your dad, which was dated after his will was made, stating that it was now his intentions that you and your sister each receive half of his estate. However, he never made a formal amendment or codicil to his will reflecting this change. Your dad’s best friend testifies at the hearing that your dad told him he wanted you and your sister to each receive half of his estate and that he was planning on changing his will. Based upon the letter you present and testimony of your dad’s friend, the court rules that your dad’s assets should be divided equally between you and your sister.

Avoiding Will or Trust Contest Matters

The best way to avoid a will or trust contest is to make sure that a will or trust are drafted by an experienced New York probate and estate attorney. The attorney understands the New York estate laws and is an expert at advising clients of the best ways to dispose of their assets for their particular financial situation. A will and trust should also be reviewed periodically to reflect any major changes in a person’s life such as a divorce. Saint Pre Law Firm P.C. can also assist with the probate, estate administration and other trust matters, accountings and estate tax matters.