Less Than Clear Language in Will Spells F-E-E-S

A ruling issued today by the Iowa Court of Appeals brings to focus the necessity of clear and thorough language.  If not, your attorneys will thank you for the additional fees that you bring to them.  After all, attorneys need to eat, too.

As husband and wife, Paul and Minda had a will which provided for each other for their lives, then Minda's will provided that if she and Paul died at the same time or after her, her estate would pass to Paul's daughter Gail (Minda's step-daughter). Everything looks fine at first glance. But what if Paul predeceases Minda? What would happen then?  Minda's heirs (her brothers here) claim that the gift to Paul/Gail lapses (fails) and thus passed intestate (without a will) to them.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court that the will demonstrated a clear intent to provide for Gail after Paul's passing.  In addition, a court will typically rule in a way to avoid having property pass intestate, if possible.  The perceived demonstration of intent plus avoidance of intestate permitted Gail to receive her step-mother's estate.

It certainly would have been easier if the author of the will had put in a couple of additional words (for example, "if he predeceases me") to avoid having to go through a trial and an appeal.  So when you read our wills and think "man, these lawyers are wordy", there is a reason we are wordy.

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