Did a loved one leave multiple wills?

On Behalf of | Jun 2, 2024 | Wills

It’s not especially unusual for families to find more than one will after a loved one dies. This can happen for any number of reasons. However, if there are two or more wills with no clear indication that one replaces the other, you can surmise that they never got professional estate planning guidance or, if they did, they later made their own revisions without codifying them.

Any of these scenarios can be highly confusing for loved ones and add to the distress they’re already feeling about losing a family member. So what is the best way to handle multiple wills?

How is it determined which one is valid?

First, don’t assume anything. For example, the will with the latest date isn’t necessarily the valid one. That’s up to the probate court to decide. That’s why all wills that are located need to be submitted to the court, regardless of what they say and what kind of changes were made. 

It may be a good idea to continue searching to see if you find any additional ones. If your loved one had an estate planning professional – even if it’s not clear that they consulted with them recently – it’s wise to find out what they know about the status of the estate plan.

Why the most recent valid will can still be challenged

When multiple wills are submitted to the probate court, they generally accept the most recent one as long as it’s valid under state law. If you don’t believe that will reflects your loved one’s wishes, you may still be able to challenge it if you have evidence that they:

  • Didn’t have “testamentary capacity” at that time to create or make changes to a will due to cognitive or other health issues
  • Was the victim of “undue influence” by someone who coerced or tricked them into making those changes
  • Wasn’t the one who made the changes

Finding more than one will or even a marked-up will can be very stressful for a family. It can also lead to serious conflicts if the differences reflect a redistribution of inheritances among heirs. If you’re considering challenging the validated will, it’s wise to get experienced legal guidance to protect your rights and help ensure that your loved one’s true wishes are honored.