The passing of a loved one can be a stressful time. There are people that need to be contacted, arrangements that need to be made, and legal issues that need tending to, such as carrying out a person’s will. While all of these issues are important, special care should be taken when probating a will, as it represents a person’s final wishes on a variety of matters. However, exactly what a person’s final wishes were may not always be so clear. Despite careful writing, mistakes, inconsistencies, or ambiguous language can still slip into a will. Fortunately, Ohio law provides a mechanism for dealing with an unclear will: a will construction action.
The Purpose of Will Construction
Will construction is a legal proceeding that allows people with interests in the will to go before a court and ask the judge to interpret an ambiguous document. Judges in will constructions are examining the language of the will, possibly with other evidence, in an effort to resolve ambiguities by attempting to determine the intent of the testator, the person who wrote the will. This concept of the intent of the testator is key to a will construction action. Wills are designed to be documents that memorialize the testator’s wishes for how they want their property distributed, and as such the testator’s intent is the guiding principle for how the will should be interpreted.
It is also important to understand what a will contest is not. A will contest is not a process in which the judge substitutes their own judgment for that of the person who wrote the will. Judges in a will construction action are not ruling on the wisdom of any particular estate plan. While there are mechanisms for people who believe a will is somehow improper to get relief, a will construction action is not one of them. It is purely an interpretive exercise meant to clear up the language in the will.
Distinguishing Will Construction from a Will Contest
People dealing with an ambiguous will should also understand that a will construction action is not the same as a will contest. Will contests are lawsuits that contest the validity of the will. They are about showing that there is some defect that makes the will ineffective. These defects can be issues with formalities such as an inappropriate number of witnesses, or they can be more extensive issues such as a will that was allegedly created by someone based on improper influences or while not of sound mind. Will construction is a different issue. While will construction deals with mistakes or ambiguities in the will, they tend to be less serious issues that do not affect the validity of the will.
Ambiguities in a will are an unfortunate reality, and they can frustrate a testator’s final wishes. If you are the potential beneficiary of an ambiguous will and have concerns about making sure that your loved one’s estate plan is handled the way they would like, contact an Ohio probate litigation attorney today. The Law Office of Mike Gertner is here to help you understand your legal options.