While many know what can happen if you don’t have a Will, clients are less certain about the outcome when the opposite occurs:

What happens when someone dies leaving multiple Wills?

When a person dies without a Will, the laws of intestacy will provide rules for how that person’s estate will be distributed. If a person does have a Will, the Will controls the distribution of assets.

Many individuals who have Wills revise them over time, executing new Wills throughout their lives and potentially leaving several versions of their estate planning documents for relatives and friends to weed through when they are gone.

To determine which Will is valid and will be admitted to probate, the Probate Court will generally admit the testator’s most recent Will to probate. When a testator properly executes a Will, the testator revokes all of his or her prior Wills (which is where the phrase “Last Will and Testament” comes from).

Problems can arise when multiple versions of a person’s Will are submitted for probate. A Will can be challenged if it has not been properly executed, if there are allegations that one of the beneficiaries had undue influence over the testator, or if the testator was suffering from an insane delusion or did not have capacity when he or she executed the Will.

Beneficiaries of an earlier Will can challenge the later-executed Will on any of these grounds, potentially leading to the invalidation of the later-executed Will regardless of the testator’s true intent.

You can avoid confusion by destroying your old estate planning documents when you execute new ones. Writing “cancelled” or “void” on your old Will works, but it is best simply to shred or otherwise completely destroy the instrument.