Avoiding ambiguities in a will

It is understandable why people, especially those who are still relatively young, would want to avoid writing a will. However, it is a vital document that will make life so much easier for your surviving loved ones after you pass away. Unfortunately, USA Today reported in 2015 that only 36 percent of Americans actually have a will in place. 

In the event you do get around to writing a will, you want to make sure an attorney reads it over. The language should be clear and concise. Ambiguities are common in will and trust writing, so make sure your relatives cannot misconstrue anything. 

Latent and patent ambiguities

There are two types of ambiguities that typically come up in wills: latent and patent. Latent ambiguity occurs when the wording is clear but could have multiple meanings based on context. For example, a person could leave a certain amount of money to a niece, Margaret, but has two nieces named Margaret, making it confusing as to which one the person meant. 

Patent ambiguities occur when the wording within the will could mean different things. For example, a person could distribute money among various people according to percentages, but the percentages add up to 125 percent. 


Any ambiguity will most likely lead to conflict within the family members and friends of the deceased. It is possible the family will reach an amicable solution. In the Margaret example above, the family may know which Margaret the deceased was closer to and who he or she would have wanted to have the money. However, when it comes to matters of money, people can become greedy and want their share. 

In the event the family cannot reach a conclusion, the matter will go to court. The court generally looks at the overall language of the will to determine what the person’s intent ultimately was. This creates a lot of strife, so it is simpler to take great care when initially crafting the will. 

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