When it comes to drafting a will in Texas, the language used is critical to ensure that the testator’s intentions are accurately reflected.
Despite the careful consideration that goes into creating a will, it’s not uncommon for contradictions or ambiguities to arise within the document.
To better understand this situation let’s look at the case Stanley v. Henderson, 139 Tex. 160, 162 S.W.2d 95 (1942).
Facts and Procedural History
When L. N. Stanley died. The will was a holographic will (a will that is written wholly in the testator’s handwriting), which L. N. had stricken through and changed several times.
The will included two paragraphs pertaining to the executor’s payment. The fifth paragraph stated, “Five years shall be taken to wind up my estate, distributing about 1/5 annually among them, and longer if necessary to preserve same from dissipation and waste, my executor to draw his pay in some five annual installments.”
The ninth paragraph stated, “The sum of 1 ½ thousand dollars shall in three installments of five hundred dollars each be taken by my executor as compensation for his services contingent upon faithful and honest discharge of services.”
When L. N. was executing his will he was told that if he was silent on the compensation to the executor then the statutory laws would apply, which give the executor a five percent commission.
The question for the court was, did the Testator write the paragraphs around the statutory laws or did the Testator include them to add to the statutory law?
What is Contradictory Language in a Will?
Contradictory language in a will refers to a situation where two or more provisions in a will cannot be reconciled or are inconsistent with each other. In other words, the language in the will contradicts itself, making it difficult to determine the testator’s true intent.
For example, suppose a will includes a provision that leaves a specific asset to a named beneficiary, but another provision in the will later contradicts this by leaving the same asset to a different beneficiary or specifying that the asset should be sold and the proceeds distributed among the beneficiaries. In this case, there is a contradiction in the will, and it may be challenging to determine which provision takes priority or reflects the testator’s true wishes.
In such cases, the probate court will need to interpret the will and determine the testator’s true intent based on all the available evidence, including the language of the will, the testator’s prior statements, and any other relevant factors.
How do the Courts Handle Contradictory Language?
To handle contradictory language in a will, the courts will typically try to determine the testator’s true intent by examining the language of the will and any other evidence that may shed light on the testator’s intentions. This may include testimony from witnesses who were present when the will was executed, evidence of the testator’s prior statements or actions, and any other relevant factors.
If the contradictory language in a will cannot be resolved, the court may declare the will invalid, or it may apply rules of construction to determine how the conflicting provisions should be interpreted. Rules of construction are legal principles used to interpret ambiguous or conflicting language in a will or other legal document. These rules may help to clarify the testator’s intent and ensure that the will is administered in a manner that is consistent with the testator’s wishes.
In some cases, the court may also apply the doctrine of probable intent, which allows the court to consider evidence of the testator’s probable intent even if it is not reflected in the language of the will itself. The doctrine of probable intent is based on the principle that the testator’s intent should be the guiding principle in interpreting the will, rather than a strict adherence to the language of the document.
Court Favors Terms that are Specific and Later-in Time
That brings us back to this case. The main issue was whether the executor was entitled to a commission of five percent in addition to a payment of $1,500, or just the $1,500. There was contradictory language in the will on this issue.
The court held that the more specific and later-written paragraph in the will controlled over the earlier paragraph, and that executor was only entitled to $1,500 in compensation. Additionally, the executor was found to have taken more money than he was supposed to and was withholding funds from the estate. This case demonstrates that when there are conflicting provisions in a will, the more specific and later-written provision may take precedence. This is one of the rules of construction that the courts apply in construing wills when there is contradictory language.
Avoid Having Contradictory Language in Your Will
When creating a will, it is important to ensure that the language used is as clear and concise as possible. A will is a legal document that outlines your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets after your death. However, if the language in your will is unclear or ambiguous, it can lead to confusion, disputes, and even litigation between your beneficiaries.
To avoid these problems, it is crucial to use language that is specific and cannot be interpreted in more than one way. This means that you should avoid vague language and use concrete terms when describing your wishes. For example, instead of stating “I leave my car to my son,” it is better to state “I leave my 2002 Honda Accord with VIN number 1234567890 to my son John Smith.”
Additionally, it is essential to ensure that your will is consistent throughout and does not contain any contradictory language. If your will includes conflicting provisions or provisions that cannot be reconciled, it can create confusion and make it difficult for your executor and beneficiaries to carry out your wishes. In such cases, a court may need to interpret your will and determine your true intentions, which can lead to delays, expenses, and disputes.
If you’re dealing with a will in Texas that contains contradictory language, it’s important to understand how the state deals with these situations. In general, the court will try to resolve any contradictions in the will so that the intent of the testator is carried out.
However, if there is no clear way to resolve the contradiction, then the court may simply disregard the conflicting provision altogether. This can result in some unexpected outcomes, so it’s always best to consult with an attorney if you’re dealing with a will that contains contradictory language.
Do you need an Experienced Probate Attorney to help?
It is not uncommon for there to be contradictory language in a Texas will. If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to seek out the help of an experienced probate attorney. An experienced probate attorney will be able to help you interpret the contradictions in the will and determine what the testator’s intent was. They can also help you navigate the probate process and make sure that your rights are protected.
Our Houston Probate Attorneys provide a full range of probate services to our clients. Affordable rates, fixed fees, and payment plans are available. We provide step-by-step instructions, guidance, checklists, and more for completing the probate process. We have years of combined experience we can use to support and guide you with probate and estate matters. Call us today for a FREE attorney consultation.
The content of this website is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The information presented may not apply to your situation and should not be acted upon without consulting a qualified probate attorney. We encourage you to seek the advice of a competent attorney with any legal questions you may have.