What happens when there are competing wills?

For many people, creating a will is a practical way to protect their assets and loved ones. As such, a person can take the steps to have his or her final wishes respected by gathering the necessary financial documents, visiting with an attorney and creating an estate plan.

However, a late real estate developer's children may be treading on uncharted legal territory by challenging their father's will, which was signed in 2000. The reason? Just before the businessman passed away, he was in the process of making a significant update to his will. However, he was never able to sign it.

By challenging the validity of the will from 2000 to replace it with the more recent, unsigned document, the man's sons could bring a major change to North Carolina estate law, where the businessman lived. In most cases, a will isn't considered valid if it's not signed in the presence of witnesses or written by hand. Probate litigation could be reshaped if the court finds in favor of the sons.

In the developer’s unsigned will, he intended to create a charitable trust worth almost $200 million. Under the terms of the older will, however, those assets were to be transferred to the man's company, which is the arrangement that was set to be administered.

Of course, probate litigation is a complex process. Most people hope to prevent contentious legal claims by creating a will. In this case, the developer was trying to take proactive steps, but unforeseen circumstances disrupted that plan. In certain cases, litigation might be unavoidable, which is why it helps to be prepared to build a case to best represent the testator's wishes.

Source: The Charlotte Observer, "Sons of late developer Henry Faison suing his firm over will," Eric Frazier, Oct. 22, 2013

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