Could Your Last Will and Testament be Ambiguous?

New North Carolina Court of Appeals Case

Theodora Vaporis

The North Carolina Court of Appeals issued a new opinion today in the area of Estate Administration in the case of Brawley v. Sherrill. In this case, the Will provided for an estate to pass equally to Zoe’s two children but if either of the children predeceased Zoe that either his or her share shall go to Zoe’s grandchildren. One of Zoe’s children, a son, predeceased her so the question presented to the Court was does the deceased child’s share go to his children or to all of Zoe’s grandchildren and not just the ones that were the children of her deceased son.

The children of her deceased son took one position and her surviving child took a different position. In this case, the Court concluded that the language meant that all of Zoe’s grandchildren should take and not just those of the deceased son. There was a strong dissent which shows us that this may have been an ambiguous Will since even the judges did not agree. While this case is based on specific facts, the important lesson for the average person is that is imperative that when you have your Will drafted, you make sure it is drafted in a way that is not ambiguous and not subject to different interpretations. Together with your lawyer, make sure you review the provisions that set out who gets which assets or what percentage of the estate, and what happens if they predecease you. Your lawyer can even go so far as putting examples in the Will if there is any question that the disposition could be interpreted more than one way. No provision should be left to more than one interpretation.

The attorneys at Black, Slaughter & Black can assist you in reviewing your current Will to make sure than none of the provisions are ambiguous or in drafting a new Will for you in order to be sure that your testamentary disposition goes as planned.