There are many reasons a person could unintentionally have made a mistake in their will. If the will wasn't updated recently, used confusing language, or included properties that didn't actually belong to your loved one, you and your fellow beneficiaries may not receive a proper inheritance due to a simple administrative error. When this happens, heirs may petition the probate court to change the terms of the will.
Common Mistakes That May Cause Relatives to Contest a Will
Unfortunately, even relatively "minor" errors in a will can cause assets to be dispersed to unintended beneficiaries. While there's no limit to the kinds of mistakes that may occur in a will, most problems revolve around:
- Numbers. Numerical errors may occur due to typos or misplaced commas, such as leaving "$1,00" to an heir (notice the comma). This could be taken to mean $1, $100, or $1000, depending on the person interpreting the will. Numbers can also lead to failed inheritance because they do not accurately reflect the value of the property. For example, a person with two grandchildren directs the older grandchild to purchase a family property for $50,000 and gift $25,000 to the younger grandchild. The property in question has risen in value to over $500,000. The eldest could purchase the property for $50,000, give $25,000 to the younger grandchild, and then sell the property—keeping the $450,000 profit to himself.
- Asset designations. A will may fail to accurately describe the assets or properties they wish to bequeath to their heirs. A mother's will may leave "all 300 acres of my land" to her son, but her acreage is actually closer to 500. Does the son inherit all of the land, or do other relatives have a claim to the remaining 200 acres? Similarly, a father may leave all business properties in Florida to his son, and one out-of-state business to his daughter—but the out-of-state business is actually held by a Florida-based corporation.
- Ownership. While no person may bequeath a property or asset that doesn't belong to them, a person may be mistaken about their ownership of a gifted property. A mother may attempt to gift the family home to her son, but the gift will likely fail if her daughter is listed as co-owner of the house on the deed. On the other hand, if the house is held in trust and the son isn't listed as a surviving trustee or beneficiary, the mother does not "own" the house and cannot give it away in her will.
- Failed plans. Mistakes may occur if loved ones attempt to make gifts before and during their lifetimes. Consider a father who intentionally disinherited his two sons in his will, explaining that he was giving his sons their inheritances early through cash gifts. However, he passed away before he actually made the gifts. Through Florida intestacy laws, the entire estate could pass to their mother—the surviving spouse.
How to Resolve Errors in a Will
The probate court's key consideration when interpreting a will is to respect the wishes of the person who made it. The court will likely review the entire document—not just the provision that contains the potential error—to determine the person's true intent.
The burden is on you to prove that your departed relative's will contains an error, and it will take the help of an experienced estate attorney to prove your case. Simply fill out the quick contact form on this page to set up a consultation at DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis and get answers to your questions.