Clarity is critical when it comes to drafting a will.
Beneficiaries don’t always agree on what particular words or phrases in a will mean – Ontario’s Superior Court hears will challenge every day based on these kinds of arguments.
Sadly, the wasted time and eye-watering expense associated with this kind of litigation – which often eats into the assets left by the testator – could frequently have been avoided with a little more precision and clarity in the language of the will.
I recently came across one such case, involving a testator who left her home to old friend for him to use during his lifetime, as well as a sizeable fund to cover the property’s maintenance costs.
Once he was “no longer living” in the house, the will provided for the property to be sold for the benefit of one of the woman’s favourite charities.
After the woman died, her old friend and the charity clashed over the arrangement, and whether the man was spending enough time in the home to be living there.
In the end, the charity won out – the judge found the will granted the friend only a “licence” to the home, rather than a “life interest,” while the conditions about his living there were too poorly defined to be valid. As a result, the house was ordered sold for the benefit of the charity.
This might have been just what the testator intended, but we’ll never know for sure because of the ambiguity in her will.
In this case, the will was drafted by a lawyer, but problems with unclear language are even more likely when testators decide to go it alone with DIY will kits.
An experienced trusts and estates lawyer can help testators ensure the language of the will accurately reflects their wishes regarding gifts, guardianship, funeral preferences and much more, all while minimizing the tax burden on the estate.
The more complicated and valuable your assets are, the more essential it is to obtain sound legal advice before finalizing an estate plan.
Disclaimer: The content on this website is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice or an opinion of any kind. Users of this website are advised to seek specific legal advice by contacting members of Laredo Law (or their own legal counsel) regarding any specific legal issues.
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Jacob Manishevitz is a mortgage agent with iBridge Capital. His brokerage donates to several charities that range from providing drinkable water to people in need in developing countries; and supporting important organizations by way of activity-based fundraising. If you are looking for worthwhile causes and want to jump on board, please reach out to Jacob.