If you are the personal representative to an estate, it falls to you to file the deceased person’s Last Will and Testament with the Florida probate court. But what if you locate two different Wills—or three, or more? Or a family member comes forward with a drastically different version of the Will?
Which Will Is Valid?
It’s not uncommon for a person to create multiple Wills over their lifetime. However, only one Will can be valid at the time of a person’s death. The existence of multiple Wills is not only confusing, it's more likely to lead to estate litigation from disinherited beneficiaries.
When deciding which version of a Will is valid, the court will consider:
- The most recent document. In general, the most recently created Will is considered to reflect the deceased’s thoughts and wishes at the time of their death. But in order for the newest Will to be valid, the deceased must have legally revoked any previous Wills.
- Whether previous Wills were revoked. Under Florida law, a person can revoke a Will in two ways: by writing, or by a physical act. For example, the most recent Will may explicitly state that any prior Wills are invalid. Or, the person can physically destroy the previous Will to revoke it.
- Codicils. It’s possible to make changes to an existing Will rather than create multiple Wills that could cause conflict later. In order for any modifications to be legal, the deceased would have had to create a codicil, which is a separate legal document that must be written, witnessed, and signed according to Florida law. Codicils typically change only one or two things in the document (such as replacing a deceased beneficiary), and shouldn’t be used to rewrite the entire Will.
- Evidence of destroyed or missing documents. Florida law allows the admission of a lost or destroyed Will for probate, as long as an interested person can establish the full and precise terms of the Will. However, two disinterested witnesses must be able to testify to the specific content of a lost Will. If an heir can provide a copy of the lost Will to the court, it may be supported by one disinterested witness.
If you aren’t sure which version of a Will is legally valid, the dedicated attorneys at DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis, P.A. can answer your questions. Simply fill out the quick contact form on this page to set up a consultation and have us explain your options to you.