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What happens if a loved one leaves behind multiple wills?

In 2018, people across the country grieved the loss of the late, great Aretha Franklin. Franklin’s name returned to the headlines in 2019, however, when three handwritten wills were found in her home and filed in a Michigan probate court.

The discovery of these three wills only created more complex issues for the probate of Franklin’s estate, and the probate is still open today. These issues are not unique to Franklin’s estate. Multiple wills could create several challenges for any family during probate, and it could put your loved one’s estate – as well as their wishes – in jeopardy.

Why would your loved one have multiple wills?

These situations are rare, but there are a few reasons a loved one might leave behind multiple wills, including:

  • They made two wills because they owned property in two different states, which requires probate in both states;
  • They were under undue influence to create a new will, and they lacked testamentary capacity;
  • They updated their will or wrote a new one, but did not properly revoke or destroy the old will; or
  • They wished to supplement their will with new instructions.

Regardless of the reason, the existence of multiple wills often only serves to create confusion and disputes between family members – especially if they inherit more in one will than they do in another. These disputes could potentially lead to complex litigation.

The main issue: Which will is valid?

Arguments are not the only issue that families could face if a loved one leaves behind multiple wills. The primary issue is determining which will is the correct one, and which one accurately reflects your loved one’s wishes.

Generally, California courts accept the most recent will as legitimate as long as it meets the requirements of a valid will. That is because a new will generally revokes an old one, even if it does not include a clause that revokes any previous wills.

However, the court might also determine an older will is the valid will, especially if:

  • There is proof of undue influence or duress regarding the new will;
  • There is proof that the new will is forged;
  • There is proof that your loved one was not of sound mind when they created the new will; or
  • If the new will simply does not meet the requirements under California law.

Another obstacle that families could face is time. The probate process can already be quite time-consuming and determining the validity of one will out of many could take even more time. In these situations, it is often beneficial to consult an experienced attorney to determine how you can move forward while protecting your future and your loved one’s memory.

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