Elder Law Article

Will Must Be Equivocal As to Intentions

By: Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.

Q: Must I revise my will when I acquire new assets?

A: A well-crafted will need not be revised for each new asset, but, as at least one surviving brother learned, the intentions for such future-acquired property must be clear in the will.

On March 27, the Florida Supreme Court resolved the dispute over property that Ann Aldrich acquired after writing her will but before her death. Without an attorney, Aldrich used a universal legal form to draft her will. She listed out each of her known assets and indicated that all were to go to her sister or, if the sister died first, to her brother. The sister then died and left assets to Aldrich, who never revised her will but did later write and sign a note that indicated that all of her possessions (including the inheritance from her sister) would go to the brother.

Upon Aldrich’s death, her brother claimed Aldrich’s intent to give everything to the brother was clear: she had intended to list all of her assets in her will, she listed only one beneficiary (the brother), and she later signed a note to clarify that the brother would also get the assets acquired after the will was executed. But Aldrich’s nieces from her other, deceased brother claimed otherwise, noting that the will itself simply listed assets to go to the brother and did not clarify any intention of what might happen to other assets not listed.

The Court agreed with the nieces and limited itself to the four corners of the will, which was vague at best as to Aldrich’s intention. Aldrich should have included a general “residuary clause” to act as a catchall provision for the intentions as to all assets not specifically listed. Without such a clause, the law handles such assets using strict bloodline inheritance rules regardless of the will.

Planning your estate does not have to be difficult and can be effectively done in a single step without worrying about making changes with each asset. An attorney can help ensure that your intentions are clear in all of your estate planning documents.

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