The Challenges of Altering a Will – Part III
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
June 18, 2015
In two earlier blog posts here and here, I discussed the right and wrong ways to alter a last will and testament. The blogs chronicled the unfortunate story of Fred Putney, who learned the hard way that you cannot simply cross out and pencil in changes on your will. If you attempt to make amendments and additions by writing on the face of your will, this will render the document invalid under Florida law.
Fred’s unfortunate error raised a similar question among one of my readers—what happens when you use whiteout to alter a will? To answer this interesting question, let’s take a look at the experience of Angelica Forester and her family.
An Underhanded Attempt at Alteration
Angelica Forester hadn’t seen much of her father since he married his second wife, Grace. Angelica had never been as close to her father Paul as she had to her mother, but they’d always gotten along civilly. They exchanged calls every other weekend and visiting each other on holidays.
But when Paul married Grace, the two of them moved to a town on the other side of Florida with Grace’s two daughters. Grace didn’t like to travel, and always treated Angelica very coldly whenever she visited. Eventually, Angelica’s visits with her father dwindled to every other year. The last time Angelica saw her father before he died was when he had her act as a witness to the signing of his will.
As Angelica prepared to travel across the state for her father’s funeral, she was upset, and assumed her stepmother would be as well. What she hadn’t predicted was her stepmother’s anger. When Grace spotted Angelica at the funeral, she headed over immediately.
“How dare you show your face here after the way you treated you father!” she hissed.
Angelica was completely taken aback. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“Leaving him all alone in his final years! Leaving me to care for him on my own!” Grace spat. “Why, if my daughters treated me that way, I’d write them out of my will!”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Grace,” said Angelica hesitantly. “I loved my father very much, and I hope he knew that.”
Grace harrumphed and stalked off. Angelica felt shaken, but she didn’t think much more of her stepmother’s outburst until the family gathered together to meet with her father’s estate planning attorney to hear his final will and testament.
When Angelica walked into the estate planning firm’s office, Grace and her daughters were already seated in front of his desk. Grace refused to look at Angelica, though her two daughters waved hello and looked embarrassed at their mother’s behavior.
Paul’s attorney walked into the room and took a seat, looking perplexed.
“Well, ladies,” he said, addressing them all with a sympathetic smile. “We may have a bit of a problem here.”
He adjusted his glasses and opened the desk drawer, pulling out a long, handwritten document. “I’ve been reviewing Paul Forester’s will, and it’s the strangest thing—it looks as though someone has gone over it with whiteout to remove certain things.” He looked at Angelica. “Specifically, it looks as though someone has gone through and whited-out all mentions of your name, Angelica.”
Angelica started. “That doesn’t make sense! Why would my father…” she began.
“I doubt this was the work of your father,” the attorney said. “He knew better than to try and alter a will with whiteout.”
Grace had turned beet red. Everyone in the room turned to look at her.
“Well, it’s what he would have wanted!” she burst out. “I tried to remove his ungrateful daughter from his will because I knew he wouldn’t have the guts to do it himself!”
“Grace!” Angelica said, shocked. “That is completely ridiculous!”
“Oh dear,” said the attorney, shaking his head. “This is a tricky situation.”
A Tricky Situation
The lawyer explained that any amendments and additions to a last will and testament have to be added in an official codicil. Any changes penciled in, crossed out, or whited out render the will completely invalid.
Since Paul’s will had been altered improperly with whiteout, the courts generally have no choice but to disregard the will entirely and distribute the decedent’s property according to state intestate succession laws.
The attorney explained that without a will, the court would most likely award the entire estate to Paul’s spouse—Grace.
“That’s so unfair!” said Angelica, bitterly.
“That being said, you do have the option of contesting what has happened here by demonstrating your father’s true intentions,” the attorney explained to her in front of the group. “However, contesting a will is no easy task…” He added. You will probably win but it will be expensive… for the both of you.
Grace’s smile faltered.
Has your loved one’s been unlawfully altered? Contact an attorney with experience with Florida estate planning and probate. Your attorney can help you stand up against fraud, while ensuring your loved one’s wishes are honored and your family’s well-being is protected.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose
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