What happens when you draw up a will that is not clear
All too often a testator will draw up a will in which it is not clear what the position of a relative or a friend who has been allowed to live in a property (typically the main residence) will be once the benefactor dies. Should he/she be paying rent? Is he or she responsible for the upkeep of the property? Is the arrangement temporary, semi-permanent or lifelong?
We at Gunstons have seen that a lack of clarity in these matters can lead to claims from the other beneficiaries who, understandably, have come to feel that although they have inherited the property they are receiving little or no benefit from it because a privileged individual has been allowed to occupy it.
In our experience, when an estate is to be wound up and there are no longer senior family members to hold the family together, heirs all too easily end up at loggerheads with one another over this matter. This is a problem that could be considerably reduced by the testator giving a greater degree of clarity to the heirs’ wishes (and of course putting them in writing).
In one case, two surviving children were left three rent-earning properties – on the understanding that they would inherit these ‘equally’ and if possible hold onto them as revenue earners. However, it was not stipulated which house would go to which heir and, as one property was clearly more valuable than the other two, this led to unnecessary disputes.
Our advice to you, the testator
In discussing your estate and will with an attorney it is important, firstly, that you, the benefactor, do not try to rule from the grave – when you draw up a will a flexible or alterable arrangement is usually preferable – and, secondly, that you make your wishes and intentions absolutely clear, avoiding grey areas and vagueness.
We believe that you as a testator do your loved ones a favour by spelling out your wishes clearly, even though you may sometimes feel uncomfortable doing so.
What a beneficiary can do when a will is not clear
As in many other areas of law, in our experience, if there is any disagreement among family members, mediation is a resource that can be of great value. In almost all cases it will be quicker, less expensive and will give a more desirable solution than litigation or hoping things will resolve themselves by ignoring them.