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Should You Consider Creating “Serial Wills” If Your Family Has Major Problems?

The sad fact is that many families have “unique” members who often feel entitled to inherit all available money from everyone, especially if they’ve never bothered to obtain challenging academic credentials or hold down a 9-to-5 job for many years. Furthermore, they’re usually the ones who contest most family wills. For this reason, most testators wonder how they can minimize all possible will contests after they die.                                                                               One of the most common ways is to insert “no contest” language into wills, clearly indicating that if any party named in the will seeks to contest it, he or she shall take nothing. This approach requires the testator to actually include the troublesome individual in the will, although you’re free to live only a token amount to this person. When you do leave someone less, it’s always wise to make some written indication as to why one person was given less than the others.                                                                                                                                                                       Others choose to approach this problem differently.

What Serial Wills Basically Require

            Another, less common approach is to basically “pad” history with a number of wills over the years, clearly indicating which family members you are leaving out. The theory is that once you’re gone and you leave behind about three or four wills over a 10 to 20-year period, all of which exclude certain family members, you’re providing any future probate court with plenty of proof that you didn’t just suddenly decide to disinherit someone. This is quite useful since many people who do succeed in “breaking” a will by contesting it, are often arguing that they were victimized by someone else who arguably exercised “undue influence” on the testator.

            If you’ve been drafting wills for years that indicate your desire to disinherit someone, you are arguably making it easier for a court to later compare your last will with all of the earlier ones, clearly noting your unchanging desire to inherit someone.

Possible Disadvantage of Serial Wills

  • If you own a lot of money and property, redrafting your will frequently can become rather expensive;
  • The existence of multiple wills makes it extremely important that all of the wills are free of any significant errors since the disagreeable party could point to them and claim they support his or her claims;
  • One of the wills in the series could become lost, possibly opening up questions as to what it actually revealed in terms of the testator’s intent at that point;
  • Any legal document that seeks to exclude some people from inheriting is still likely to be challenged, regardless of how well it’s drafted.

 

If you can, meet with all of your relatives prior to your death and carefully explain why some individuals are inheriting more than others. There’s no need to try and purposely traumatize even grown adult children if you simply liked one child more than another. If nothing else, you can always point out that one child is doing far better than others financially – and you just feel a need to even up each person’s chances for a positive future.


Shane Smith
Advocate for the Seriously Injured in Georgia