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What do you do if your loved one left more than one will?

On Behalf of | Nov 2, 2023 | Probate and Estate Administration

You may be somewhat relieved to find a will in your loved one’s home after they passed away – especially if you feared they never got around to writing one. But what if you find more than one will?

That’s the dilemma a lot of families face. Often, when there is more than one will, they list different beneficiaries, inheritances and more. One or more documents may not be dated. They may have notes scribbled in the margins or provisions crossed out. One will may seem to disinherit an heir, while that heir is included in other versions.

No less than (fictional) billionaire Logan Roy of Succession left behind some confusion over whether he had underlined his son Kendall’s name as his successor or crossed it out. While there’s less at stake in most families than the future of a multibillion-dollar empire, trying to decipher someone’s handwritten changes can be frustrating.

The court needs to sort it out.

When one will or other estate plan document is replaced by another, all previous copies should be destroyed or at least clearly marked as void. However, if someone tries to do it themselves without an estate planning professional, they don’t always do this. 

If there’s more than one potentially valid will, they should all be turned over to the probate court to determine which will be followed. Generally, that’s the one with the latest date as long as it meets California’s legal requirements for a valid will.

Why could the most recent will be invalid?

There may be circumstances in which the latest will may not be valid, even if it has the appropriate witnesses and signatures. For example, if you can provide evidence that the deceased didn’t have testamentary capacity to create a will when the last one was written or that they changed their will because of the undue influence of a caregiver, relative, friend or other person, that latest will may be thrown out.

If you are in this situation – particularly if there are conflicts within the family over which will is valid – it’s wise to get legal guidance to protect your rights and your loved one’s wishes.