Reformation Of Wills And Trusts In Florida
We have, in the past, written about the many ways that someone could challenge a will or trust. But there is another way to challenge a will or trust, in addition to the more common allegations of fraud, undue influence, coercion or duress: A simple mistake.
Errors in Estate Documents
Trusts, and more recently according to a law change, wills can be changed or altered when they do not correctly reflect the wishes of the settlor (the person making the will or trust).
This is different from challenging a will on the basis of incapacity or duress or coercion. With those allegations, you are saying that an entire estate document or an amendment to it, should be invalidated or ignored. The person who made it didn’t know or appreciate what he or she was doing, thus calling the entire document into doubt.
But with mistakes in a will or trust, all that a challenger is saying is that the will or estate document is inaccurate, based on an innocent mistake, such as, for example, an error.
A simple example would be if you owned 20 dogs, loved dogs all your life, and worked at a dog rescue organization, so you leave money to a dog rescue group.
But somehow, your estate documents ended up leaving your money to a nearby cat rescue group. Everybody who ever knew you knows that’s an error, and doesn’t reflect what you meant or what you wanted. Beneficiaries and interested parties can then ask the court to reform the will or trust, to reflect what you really meant or wanted.
Changes Can be Made to Reflect Intent
The change can be made, even if the estate document is otherwise clear and unambiguous—and even if the change would end up contradicting the plain meaning of the document itself.
If the court agrees, and reforms the document, the entire document is not void, and a prior version of the estate document doesn’t come into effect; all that happens is the court “rewrites” the estate document (or the relevant parts of the document) to reflect the intent of the settlor.
Reformation Can be Done
Courts are often hesitant to rewrite a will or a trust, and courts will generally assume that whatever you put in those documents, you meant to put, and are intended to be there.
The court also won’t re-write or reform an estate document because of a future event. For example, just because you remarried and didn’t revisit and amend your estate document, won’t be a basis to have it re-written. That is not a “mistake,” as defined by the law.
But the court also recognizes that accidents do happen, and things end up in estate documents that the settlor never intended to be there. Of course, intent at that point needs to be proven by outside testimony; the person who made the documents is gone by that point.
Call a West Palm Beach probate lawyer at the Law Offices of Larry E. Bray today if you have a problem or a question about a will or trust or your estate, or you feel you have a valid challenge to someone’s probate case.