When it comes to planning for your family’s future, the most important document you can have is a Last Will and Testament. A proper Will ensures that your wishes regarding how your assets are given to your loved ones are respected after you’re gone.
However, it’s crucial to understand that certain actions or oversights can void a Will, which can come with serious consequences. Comprehending what voids a will in Maryland can ensure that your legacy is protected after you’re gone.
If you are wondering one of the following:
- How do I ensure I do not unintentionally void a Will due to a lack of legal knowledge?
- How do I intentionally revoke a previous Will (for various reasons, such as significant life changes)?
Then this article is for you.
In this article we will explore both questions, providing a guide to what voids a Will in Maryland. We will highlight the legal requirements for a valid Will, discuss situations that unintentionally void a Will, and ways to intentionally void or revoke a Will. If you want to make sure your Will holds up after you’re gone or want to consciously revoke a Will, keep reading!
Table of Contents
Understanding Legal Requirements for a Valid Will
Soundness of Mind
“Soundness of mind,” or “testamentary capacity,” is a requirement for a valid Will. When a person has a sound mind and memory, it means they possess enough mental capacity to understand. If the testator (the person creating the Will) lacks the testamentary capacity for reasons like dementia, mental illness, or the influence of medications or substances, this could void a Will.
An experienced estate planning lawyer will help assess the testator’s mental state to ensure their soundness of mind at the time the Will is signed.
Writing Requirement and Signature
A valid Will must be in writing and signed by the testator. Without a clear signature, a Will might not withstand legal scrutiny. It’s essential to remember that even a minor mistake could potentially void the Will.
Lastly, to ensure a Will’s validity, most jurisdictions require the presence and signatures of at least 2 competent witnesses during the signing of the Will. These witnesses must watch the testator sign the Will and then sign it themselves. The witnesses should also be “disinterested,” meaning they do not stand to inherit anything from the Will. This is done to avoid conflicts of interest. If a beneficiary is also a witness, it may void the witness’s portion of the inheritance.
What Voids a Will in Maryland? Situations That Can Make Your Will Invalid
Creating a Will Without Any or Proper Witnesses Present
One reason a Will might be considered invalid is the absence of proper witnesses during its creation. Most jurisdictions require the presence and signatures of at least 2 competent, disinterested witnesses. If these witnesses aren’t present or stand to inherit from the Will, there’s a risk of the Will being voided.
Failure to Include All Your Assets in Your Will
When a Will doesn’t include all the testator’s assets or doesn’t align with an established beneficiary designation, it can lead to complications. These “forgotten” assets may end up being distributed according to intestacy laws rather than the testator’s wishes.
While this does not, technically, “void” a Will, it can lead to your assets being distributed in a way that doesn’t align with your intentions. It’s essential to create a comprehensive list of assets and update it regularly.
Not Destroying Previous Wills (or Drafts)
Failing to destroy all copies of previous Wills can lead to confusion after the testator’s death. If multiple Wills are found, it might be unclear which Will reflects your final wishes, potentially leading to legal disputes. Therefore, once a new Will is created, it’s crucial to destroy all older versions and drafts.
Questionable Testator Competence
For a Will to be valid, you must have “testamentary capacity” at the time of its creation. This means you must recognize the nature and extent of your property, the identity of your beneficiaries or heirs, and the disposition you are making. If your mental capacity is in doubt-due to illness, age, or mental illness-it could render the Will invalid.
We aim to help you understand what voids a Will in Maryland by explaining the complicated processes required to ensure a Will’s validity.
Consequences of Having a Void Will
Intestacy Laws and Probate Process
When a Will is deemed invalid, the testator’s estate typically passes by intestacy laws, which generally prioritizes spouses, children, and then more distant relatives. This distribution may not align with your wishes, and assets could end up with unintended beneficiaries.
An invalid Will also complicates the probate process; instead of your chosen personal representative, a court-appointed administrator may step in, which may result in a longer, more costly probate process.
Financial and Emotional Stress on the Family
An invalid Will can cause significant financial and emotional stress for your loved ones, who may have to spend time and money in court to sort out your estate. The stress of dealing with these legal processes can also exacerbate grief. The distribution of assets according to intestacy laws might not reflect your wishes, which could lead to unexpected or unwelcome financial outcomes for certain family members.
Legal Disputes and Potential for Litigation
Finally, an invalid Will increases the likelihood of disputes among loved ones and potential beneficiaries. Disagreements over the distribution of assets or the management of the estate can lead to litigation, straining family relationships.
It’s critical to recognize what voids a Will in Maryland and have a valid, up-to-date Will in place to minimize potential legal complications and emotional distress for your loved ones.
Steps to Ensure Your Will is Valid
Working with an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
The single most effective way to ensure that your Will is valid is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney. They are well-versed in the intricacies of estate law and will help you create a legally sound Will, granting you and your family peace of mind.
Regularly Reviewing and Updating Your Will
Life changes and your Will should reflect that. Regularly reviewing your Will allows you to keep it updated to align with major life events such as:
- The birth of a child;
- The death of a beneficiary; or
- Significant changes in your financial situation.
Failing to update your Will to accommodate these changes can lead to undesired outcomes and potential disputes.
Avoiding Common Pitfalls That Can Lead to a Will Being Voided
Common pitfalls that can lead to a Will being voided include lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, fraud, and errors in execution, among others. Being aware of these pitfalls and actively taking steps to avoid them can help ensure the validity of your Will. An estate planning lawyer can provide crucial guidance, helping you avoid potential issues.
Importance of Clear and Specific Language in Your Will
Ambiguity or vague language in your Will can lead to different interpretations of your intentions, potentially resulting in disputes among your beneficiaries. To minimize the chances of such issues, it’s advisable to be as specific as possible when detailing how you wish to distribute your assets.
An estate planning lawyer can be invaluable in crafting clear, unambiguous language in your Will.
Putting your Will in for safekeeping
Lastly, it’s important to keep your Will safe and accessible. Store it in a secure place such as a fireproof safe at home, a safe deposit box at a bank, or with your estate planning attorney. Ensure that a trusted person-like your named personal representative-knows where it is and how to access it when needed. This way when the time comes, your Will can be easily found and your wishes followed. You can also file your Will with your local Register of Wills for only $5-a small price for peace of mind.
Intentionally Revoking a Will
Who Can Intentionally Revoke a Will?
Only the testator (the person who created the Will) can revoke it. This can only occur while the testator is alive and possesses testamentary capacity, meaning they comprehend the nature and effect of their actions. After the testator’s death, the Will becomes irrevocable. No other person-not even those named as beneficiaries-can revoke or alter the Will.
Reasons Why Someone Might Revoke Their Will
There are various reasons why someone might choose to revoke their Will. These can include:
- A Change in Plans: As life unfolds, your desires for how your estate should be managed and distributed might change.
- Assets Have Changed: Significant changes in your financial situation, such as acquiring or losing substantial assets, may require a change to your Will.
- Life Events: Major life events like marriage, divorce, or the birth of children often require changes to a Will.
- Changes in Relationships: If your relationship with a beneficiary, heir, or legatee changes-for example, if a once close friend becomes estranged-you may wish to alter their inheritance or remove them from your Will entirely.
Ways to Revoke a Will
There are several methods to revoke a Will, including:
- Create a New Will: This new Will should include a statement such as, “I hereby revoke all previous Will and codicils,” which clearly indicates that any prior Wills are no longer valid.
- Codicil: A codicil is a document that amends, rather than replaces, a previously executed Will. This could be used to revoke specific provisions or to make additions.
- Destroy the Will: Physically destroying the Will with the intent to revoke it can also be an effective method of revocation.
In all cases, it’s advisable to consult with an estate planning lawyer before revoking a Will to fully comprehend the implications and to ensure the process is completed correctly.
How a Lawyer Can Help
An experienced estate planning attorney understands the nuances of estate laws and the technical requirements for a legally valid Will. They ensure the Will is correctly written, witnessed, and signed, protecting it from common pitfalls that could otherwise render it invalid.
An experienced estate planning attorney tailors Wills and estate plans to the specific needs and desires of their clients. They offer advice on the best ways to structure an estate, considering factors such as tax implications, potential future medical needs, and family dynamics.
A lawyer can amend Wills to reflect changes in their client’s circumstances, ensuring the document remains current and valid. Whether you’re adding a codicil or creating a new Will entirely, an attorney can guide you through the process, explaining potential implications and helping you make informed decisions.
Beneficiary designations on accounts such as retirement plans, life insurance policies, or payable-on-death bank accounts take precedence over what is stated in a Will. This means that, regardless of what your Will says, these assets will go directly to the named beneficiary upon your death. Consequently, it’s crucial that your beneficiary designations align with your overall estate plan.
An estate planning attorney can review your beneficiary designations and advise you on potential discrepancies with your Will.
Why Work With PathFinder Law Group
PathFinder Law Group is a trusted partner in navigating the complex world of estate planning. Our experienced team is committed to delivering personalized, high-quality estate planning services that protect your assets and uphold your final wishes.
We understand the importance of estate planning and ensure your Will is both legally valid and precisely tailored to your needs. At PathFinder Law Group, we guide you through every step of the estate planning process, providing expert advice, mitigating potential issues, and continually updating your Will to reflect life’s changing circumstances.
Our goal is to provide peace of mind, knowing that your legacy will be protected and your loved ones taken care of.