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How do you resolve conflicts with a will in California?

On Behalf of | Dec 13, 2023 | ESTATE PLANNING

Every court permits the use of extrinsic evidence to determine whether a will is valid. Some concerns about a will’s validity include proper Wills Act execution or whether the deceased had testamentary capacity.

Under common law, the use of this kind of evidence has been limited. In most cases, extrinsic evidence is used to resolve problems related to ambiguous wording.

What is the plain meaning rule?

Interpreting wills according to their plain meaning in estate litigation has several advantages:

  • This interpretation ensures that the deceased’s wishes are carried out
  • Plain meaning is considered more reliable
  • There is less of a chance of fraud
  • Many feel that extrinsic evidence might change wi’s meaning.

The trend has been to move away from the plain meaning rule in modern times. A clear evidence standard helps mitigate issues that might arise.

What are patent and latent ambiguities?

Patent ambiguities are ambiguities or contradictions proven by the will itself. Examples include leaving the same gift to different beneficiaries, and such language often comes from errors.

Latent ambiguities become evident when someone attempts to fulfill the ambiguous clause. Examples include equivocations that may describe more than one person or a misdescription with a partially incorrect description.

How are ambiguities addressed?

Courts have traditionally tried to see if plain meaning can be given if the ambiguous words are removed. Extrinsic evidence is admitted to resolve the wording without resulting in the will being rewritten.

How is the legal community attempting reform?

There is a current trend of reformation, permitting extrinsic evidence admission to resolve ambiguities even if the will is reformed in the process. There is no distinction between the two types of ambiguities.

Resolving conflicts with a will is a process that requires the careful use of evidence. Despite reformation efforts, courts customarily use established legal precedents.