Case Study: Ambiguous Will Did Not Include Stepchildren
Having a Last Will and Testament is one way to legally express how you want your assets divided upon your death. An attorney who is experienced in estate planning can help you create a Will that defines your wishes. It is important that your Will is valid within your state and addresses the specific issues for your individual situation. It is also important that your Will be clear and explicit. In one Court case, this person's Will was ambiguous in its wording, and it caused some issues. Leatha created a Will before she died. At the time of making her Will, Leatha had three children from a prior marriage and two stepchildren with her current husband. The Will had an introductory clause that specifically referenced her three children and her two stepchildren. Leatha's Will stated that her estate would go to her "children," if her husband died before her (which he did). Leatha's Will did not name or define the individuals who would receive her estate; it merely stated "children". The Personal Representative of Leatha's estate petitioned the probate Court to define "children" in Leatha's Will. Specifically, the Personal Representative asked the Court to instruct whether or not the stepchildren were included among the "children" who inherit Leatha's estate. The Court ruled that the Will only referred to Leatha's children, not her stepchildren. Leatha's stepchildren appealed, arguing that the Will was ambiguous and more evidence should be considered regarding Leatha's intent in her Will. However, the Court of Appeals affirmed the probate Court ruling. The Court of Appeals stated that the introductory clause of the Will made the later reference to "children" unambiguous. The clause specifically stated that Leatha "has no children" from her current marriage. Therefore, the Court stated that any subsequent reference to Leatha's "children" in her Will could only refer to her children, not her stepchildren. It is impossible to know what Leatha's true intent was in her Will. Without clearly stating who would receive her estate, the Court defined "children" as only Leatha's children, not stepchildren. Whether or not that is what Leatha intended, we can't know. Rather than leaving such an important matter up to chance, it is essential that your Will clearly define who will be in charge of your estate, who will receive your estate, and who won't receive your estate. Our experienced attorneys can help you create a Will that explicitly states your wishes.
Source: Garcia v. Clark, 300 OR. APP. 463 (OR. APP. NOV. 14, 2019)