Wills, heirs, disagreements and lawsuits. It’s bad enough your family has lost you, now they’re fighting among themselves over who gets what, and how much.
Many times an argument occurs simply because the Will was written in a way that’s subject to more than one interpretation. Let’s take a look at an actual lawsuit that was litigated in Delaware’s Court of Chancery.
Husband and Wife had no children. Wife had 3 brothers, each of whom had children. One of the brothers died.
Wife prepares a Will leaving everything to her husband if he survives her. Wife’s Will goes on to say that if her husband predeceases her, she leaves everything to brother #1, brother #2, and the children of her deceased brother (brother #3).
Wife’s husband, brother #1 and brother #2 were all alive at the time Wife signed her Will. After she signed her Will, her husband died, brother # 1 died, and brother #2 died. After these 3 deaths, Wife could have changed her Will by removing brother # 1 and brother # 2 as beneficiaries and substituting their children (just like she did for brother #3's children). For whatever reason, Wife did not change her Will, which means that upon Wife’s death, the only beneficiaries named in her Will who were still living were the children of brother #3.
After Wife’s death, the children of brother #3 claimed that they were entitled to receive 100% of Wife’s estate. As you can imagine, the children of brother #1 and brother #2 claimed that they were entitled to receive the shares that their deceased fathers would have received had they survived Wife.
The purpose of this article is not to discuss what the law is in Delaware about the interpretation of Wills. Instead, this article is intended to show how easily a dispute can arise, and how easily it could have been avoided. All Wife had to do was to say in her Will that in the event brother #1 or brother #2 predeceased her, their share would go to their children. Having already provided what would happen if her husband died before she did, it’s somewhat strange that her Will failed to explain her wishes in the event either of her brothers failed to survive her.