Accuracy is important when making a will. You want to be as clear as possible when identifying your property and the people to whom you wish to leave it. For instance, if your will says, “I leave my son my car,” and you have two sons and three cars, you have not clearly expressed your wishes. Such ambiguity can ultimately lead to costly, unnecessary litigation between your family members as they struggle to understand what you meant.
Legal Description Helps Court Divide Property Between Niece, Nephew
Even when a court determines that your will was sufficiently clear, dissatisfied family members may still try contend otherwise. Recently, a Wisconsin state appeals court addressed just such a case. This lawsuit revolved around a will that contained a technically inaccurate, though legally sufficient, description of the deceased woman’s real estate.
The decedent–that is, the woman who made the will–originally owned a piece of land composed of about 40 acres in Brown County (the Green Bay area). In 1995, while the decedent was still alive, she transferred 3.8 acres of the 40-acre parcel to her niece. Five years later, the decedent executed her last will and testament. It contained a legal description of the 40 acres and said that the “south one-half” of the property should go to the same niece. The other half would go to her nephew.
The woman died in 2013. Her sister–the mother of the two beneficiaries–was named as executor. She believed that under the terms of her sister’s will, the total property owned at death should be equally divided between the children. In other words, the niece and nephew would each receive one-half of 36.2 acres, or 18.1 acres apiece.
The courts did not interpret the will that way, however. As the Wisconsin Court of Appeals for the Third District explained in a February 13 decision, the will actually “divided the property into two separate and distinct parcels based upon the government survey—a north half and a south half,” with the niece getting the former and the nephew receiving the latter. The 1995 transfer of the 3.8 acres was thus an “advance” against the niece’s inheritance of the entire north half of the property.
The critical thing to note here is the will contained a precise legal description of the property, including the government surveys of the north and south halves. The Third District relied on this description in ascertaining the decedent’s actual intent rather than getting caught up on the erroneous general description of the “40 acre” parcel that was technically 36.2 acres at the time of death.
Contact a Madison Trust and Estate Lawyer Today
The estate lawyers of Krause Donovan Estate Law Partners, LLC practice law in the areas of Probate, Wills, Estate Planning, and Trusts. We assist clients in and around Madison, Wisconsin with all matters related to estate planning, trusts, and probate matters. Our dedicated attorneys will even make house calls if you are unable to come to our office.
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