It is not uncommon for someone to create multiple versions of their last will and testament over the years. This can lead to confusion and disputes when that person passes away and the family finds more than one will.
So what happens legally when multiple wills surface after someone dies?
The most recent valid will is what matters
When you find multiple wills after someone’s death, the general rule is that the most recent valid will is controlling. This is because a new will implicitly revokes any past wills and codicils (amendments to wills). So if the date on Will A is 2020 but the date on Will B is 2022, Will B would supersede Will A entirely.
However, there are some caveats. Any past will can be “revived” if the testator (the person making the will) explicitly states their intent to reinstate an old will and nullify a newer one. Additionally, if there are any questions about the validity of Will B for reasons such as lack of capacity or undue influence, Will A may still require probate.
Looking for consistency across versions
When evaluating multiple wills, courts will look for consistency across the documents. If key provisions such as beneficiaries and property distribution remain unchanged across old and new versions, it strengthens the argument that the testator intended those requests. Significant inconsistencies, on the other hand, raise red flags. Having an updated, validly executed will can prevent much of the confusion, costs and family turmoil that can arise when someone passes away without clear estate planning documentation.
If multiple wills surface after a death, courts will generally favor the most recent valid will that expresses the testator’s wishes. But inconsistencies across old and new versions can lead to disputes, so keeping your will up-to-date is critical for preserving your estate plans. Consulting with an estate planning attorney can help ensure your will stands up in court.