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Will Construction

Ocala Lawyers for Probate Litigation

Most of the time, probate, which controls how a decedent’s estate is distributed, involves standard procedures. It can involve admission of wills and the appointment of a personal representative. Probate litigation involves a range of different disputes that can arise in connection with this process. For example, wills may be vague or fail to properly dispose of the entirety of an estate. Sometimes beneficiaries of a will have passed away. In such situations, the court may need to get involved in will construction in order to figure out how to distribute the estate. The dedicated Ocala probate litigation attorneys of the Dean Law Firm may be able to represent you in these important proceedings.

Will Construction

Florida wills must meet certain formalities in order to be valid. However, even if these formalities are met, it can be difficult to figure out how the devises or bequests within them apply to the assets or property that constitute the decedent’s estate.

Florida Statutes section 732.6005 provides rules for construction of a will, unless a will expresses an intent that is contrary to those rules. First, a testator’s intent as expressed in the will is controlling with regard to the legal impact of the dispositions it sets forth. Second, a will needs to be construed to pass all the assets and funds that a testator owns upon death, including any property they obtained after the will was executed. It is legally presumed that when making their will, a testator intends to dispose of all property in an estate. There’s a presumption against a construction that gives rise to partial intestacy.

The Florida Probate Code allows for will construction proceedings to construct or interpret a will. Will construction is an adversary proceeding. That means that all parties must be given notice of it. The proceedings are conducted similarly to those in a civil lawsuit. Generally, the plain language of the will determines its interpretation. However, some wills have ambiguities that allow the court to reach beyond the text of the will.

Ambiguity in a Will

One reason that wills may require construction is because they contain provisions that are too ambiguous or vague to understand. There is a patent ambiguity if there is uncertainty on the face of the will. There is a latent ambiguity where the language of the will is clear, yet it’s susceptible to more than one meaning when applied to real life objects and things.

Traditionally, you couldn’t use extrinsic evidence to clarify patent ambiguities, only to clarify latent ambiguities. However, nowadays, some courts allow extrinsic evidence for both. Extrinsic evidence may be valuable in a number of factual scenarios. For example, if the devise provides that a daughter should get the vacation home in Fort Lauderdale, but there are two vacation homes in Fort Lauderdale, it may be necessary to rely on extrinsic evidence to determine which home the daughter should get. A knowledgeable probate litigation attorney can assemble and seek admission of any relevant extrinsic evidence to the extent that it may be appropriate in your case.

Determining Intent

In evaluating what a testator’s intent may have been when drafting a will, the court puts itself in the testator’s position to try to understand how to apply the will’s language and give effect to it. The facts and circumstances surrounding the execution of the will, including the testator’s relationships with intended beneficiaries and any admissible extrinsic evidence, may be reviewed to determine intent.

Consult a Seasoned Probate Litigation Lawyer in Ocala

If you are concerned about will construction in Ocala, you can talk to a seasoned probate litigation attorney. Michael E. Dean and Timothy S. Dean of the Dean Law Firm possess decades of experience representing clients in probate litigation and other legal matters. We understand the nuances of will construction, and are available to advocate on your behalf. Call us at (352) 387-8700 to set up a free consultation or contact us online to learn more about your legal rights and options.