Things can be very complicated for families if a loved one dies without a will. What can be even more complicated, however, is finding multiple wills and not being certain which one – if any of them – reflects their wishes when they died. Further, if you find more than one will in a loved one’s desk, cabinets, safe or other locations, how do you know there aren’t even more?
Multiple wills can lead to serious family disputes. That’s particularly true if they reflect different inheritances or if a family member is included in one or more wills but left out of others.
Which will is the “official” one?
All of the wills should be presented to the probate court for a judge to decide. Typically, courts accept the one that has the most recent date. However, it must meet the state’s legal requirements for a valid will.
Under Texas law, a will must be witnessed and signed by two people over the age of 14. If it’s handwritten (holographic), it doesn’t need to be witnessed, but must have an affidavit attached.
When may an earlier will be accepted over the most recent one?
If changes are reflected in the most recent will located from previous versions, it may be possible to contest it if you have reason to believe (and, more importantly, evidence) that your loved one:
- Lacked “testamentary capacity” to create a valid will due to cognitive decline or other mental or physical issues
- Was subjected to “undue influence” by a caregiver, romantic partner or even a family member to leave them a significant inheritance and/or give them administrative authority like power of attorney (POA) or make them a trustee or personal representative (executor) of their estate.
- Didn’t actually create the will themselves because it was done fraudulently by someone else.
Chances are that if your loved one had multiple wills (especially if there’s no language about later wills replacing earlier ones), they created them without the help of an estate planning professional. However, it’s worth finding out if they had one.
If the presence of multiple wills has created a serious family dispute with significant assets at stake, it’s wise to get your own legal guidance to protect your rights and present your case to the probate court.