Reformation of Wills and Trusts in Probate Court
Sometimes, people create wills and trusts and other estate plans, and mistakes happen. Sometimes, the estate documents that are created are wrong, or else, don’t accurately reflect the wishes of the person who created them. When that happens, interested parties can ask a probate court to alter the will, to reflect what the deceased really wanted, and meant to say.
Reformation of Contracts
This is called reformation, and it isn’t unique to wills or probate law—reformation is the act of asking a court to reform a document, to correct a mistake, or to properly reflect the intentions of the parties to the contract.
As you can imagine, courts don’t love doing this—they don’t want to rewrite contracts for people, nor does a court want to be second guessing what people meant to write in an agreement. A contract (or a will) says what it says, and so long as it isn’t ambiguous, courts won’t change what a contract clearly says.
Mistakes in Wills
But when it comes to wills, courts are a bit more willing to re-write what a will says—if there is, in fact, a genuine mistake or error. Some typical examples of mistakes or errors may include:
- Someone leaves a business to their kids—but before death, the name of the business changed, so the will needs to be reformed, to reflect the proper name of the business that is being left
- Someone structures an estate plan for tax purposes, but after the estate plan is drafted, tax laws change, requiring a court to modify the terms of the will
- Someone clearly meant to leave property or assets to someone, but they were left out of the will, or else, mis-named in the will
- Someone is left out of a will, because of a mistaken belief that the person who was supposed to inherit, had previously died
As you can see, asking a court to reform a will, is not the same as challenging a will for things like undue influence, or saying that someone was not mentally competent to execute a will. Rather, challengers to the will are alleging that there is a mistake, or some kind of external changed circumstance (like a law change) that requires the will be changed.
Burden of Proof and Evidence
To reform a will, challengers must demonstrate to the court that there is a mistake by clear and convincing evidence—a higher standard than the normal 51% of the evidence that applies in most civil and probate cases.
A will does not have to be confusing, contradictory or ambiguous to be challenged or for reformation to be granted. And, a court can reform a will even if the alteration is in direct contradiction to what is otherwise written in the will itself.
Do you have a private court case, challenge, or question? Let us help you. Call the West Palm Beach probate lawyers at The Law Offices of Larry E. Bray today for help with your estate planning and probate court needs.