Writing a will isn't anyone's favorite activity, but life (and death) can come at you fast. Proper estate planning helps to provide you with peace of mind and ensures that your family can proceed through the probate process smoothly. Unfortunately, many people put off drafting this document until it is far too late. While any written will is usually better than no will at all, deathbed wills can create contentious issues for surviving family members.
What Qualifies As A Deathbed Will?
"Deathbed will" is a common term, but there is no strict legal definition. In general, a deathbed will is any will created when an individual is rapidly approaching the end of their life. These wills may be created in hospitals, nursing homes, at home, or in a variety of other circumstances. Contrary to popular belief, a deathbed will is not necessarily a hastily created document. If the testator has access to legal assistance, then the will they create in their final days or hours may be as valid and binding as any other will.
Sadly, this is rarely the case. Deathbed wills are commonly rushed documents, created when a sudden illness or injury forms an urgent need. In some cases, these wills may even be intended to supersede or alter an existing will. Even with competent legal assistance, the rushed nature of these documents may lead to errors or ambiguities.
Deathbed Wills And The Probate Process
With few exceptions, most estates must pass through probate. With a well-crafted will, the probate process can be relatively painless. However, crafting a will, especially for estates with many assets or a large number of beneficiaries, is a long and time-consuming process. The purpose of the time and effort placed into the creation of a will is to reduce the potential for challenges and ensure that the wishes of the testator are carried out appropriately by the estate's executor.
The generally rushed nature of a deathbed will can work contrary to both of these goals. Even if the will accurately represents the testator's final wishes, ambiguities or questions about the testator's state of mind can lead to challenges. Legal challenges of this type are especially likely if the deathbed will excludes a prior beneficiary or if the circumstances of the will's creation are questionable. Even without challenges, the probate process can be lengthier and more challenging than usual.
What Should You Do?
As with most issues regarding estate planning, the best answer is to plan early and thoroughly. Do not wait until it is too late to make your final wishes known because life is ultimately unpredictable. If you are acting as executor for a loved one who crafted a deathbed will, then consulting with a probate attorney is often a wise move. An experienced attorney can help you to anticipate potential problems with the execution of your loved one's will and assist in making the probate process proceed with as little trouble as possible.