Will Interpretation in Florida: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Written language can be complicated. Even with professionally drafted legal documents, people may draw different meanings out of the text. Of course, in many cases, there is little or no doubt as to the meaning of a will. Still, there are plenty of exceptions.
A court may be asked to step in and resolve a will challenge or will contest by interpreting the true meaning of the language. This raises an important question: How do courts determine the meaning of a will? To help you better understand, our Tampa probate attorneys offer answers to some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about will interpretation in Florida.
What is Will Interpretation?
Before a person’s estate can be settled, the meaning and implications of any relevant legal documents must be determined. WIll interpretation is simply the process of figuring out what a person’s will actually says. While usually this is not especially difficult, there are exceptions. If a dispute over a will arises, a judge may need to make a decision.
What Steps Should I Take If I Disagree With the Executor’s Interpretation?
If you agree with an executor’s interpretation of a will, it is imperative that you take immediate action to protect your inheritance rights. You can challenge a will on the grounds that it is being misinterpreted. That being said, when you do so, you will have the burden of proving that your interpretation of the document is the correct interpretation. You should be ready to get professional guidance and support. An experienced Tampa, FL probate lawyer can help you build a strong case.
What Does the ‘Armchair of the Testator’ Mean?
In the words of a Florida appeals court, the “polestar” of will interpretation is the “testator’s intent”. Should a dispute arise over the interpretation of a will, Florida law is clear: A court must determine what the decedent (testator) intended. You may hear the term ‘Armchair of the Testator’ used in probate disputes. As explained by Oxford Reference, the armchair principle is a basic rule of will interpretation: It involves placing one’s self in the position of the person who wrote the will. By doing so, a person can better determine the testator’s true intent.
Can Outside Evidence Be Brought In to Resolve a Dispute?
It depends. As a general rule, Florida courts will always start by reviewing the plain language of the text. Outside evidence is only permitted if the court determines that there is an inherent ambiguity in the document. If the will is not ambiguous, then the plain meaning of the language must be followed. However, if the will is deemed to be ambiguous, then outside evidence can be brought in to resolve that ambiguity and help determine the testator’s intentions.
Call Our Tampa, FL Probate Lawyers Today
At Bubley & Bubley, P.A., our Florida probate law attorneys are reliable, attentive advocates for individuals and families. If you have questions about will interpretation, we can help. For a completely confidential, no obligation consultation with an experienced attorney, please contact us today. We represent individuals and families in probate matters throughout Hillsborough County, including in Apollo Beach, Brandon, Gibsonton, Thonotosassa, and Valrico.