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The importance of intent in a will

The overriding purpose of a will is for someone to communicate their wishes as to how their assets will be distributed after they pass away. Essentially, a will establishes the rules for distribution, including who is responsible for administering the estate, and it identifies beneficiaries. Without such a document, a person’s belongings may be distributed according to California law, which may prevent a person’s preferred beneficiaries from being able to receive them.

The importance of a person’s intent cannot be overstated. After all, a will is a manifestation of a person’s wishes. A story out of London, England is a prime example of the critical nature of a will. A 98-year-old woman reportedly left her fortune to her window washer, while leaving out her estranged nephew who had previously been slated to receive it. Through his counsel, the nephew claimed that he and his aunt had a “long-established understanding” that he would receive her fortune. However, a falling out between the aunt and nephew reportedly led to her changing her will.

Despite the story being based in England, will challenges are common in California, especially among family members or caretakers who may not be specifically denoted to receive something after a person passes. Because of this, it is prudent to have an estate planning attorney draft the will so that the proper questions can be asked of the testator (the person for whom the will is established) and accurate language can be incorporated to ensure that the proper beneficiaries are accounted for. 

Source: “Woman, 98, leaves fortune to window cleaner – not nephew,” James Edgar, Feb. 17, 2014

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