No one wants their Will subjected to costly delays or bitter litigation. Few people realize that mistakes in the Will cause delays and often result in expensive legal action; even simple issues can be very costly.
New Jersey offers streamlined probate procedures, but only for Wills that strictly adhere to procedures for executing and witnessing the Will. Mistakes such as improper execution, incomplete witness clauses or the lack of a proper notary attestation create “doubt on the face of Will” and take away these streamlined proceedings. This causes delays and compromises the Estate’s ability to access its financial accounts or pay taxes and expenses. These mistakes can even require expensive legal proceedings just to probate the Will.
Mistakes in the Will also encourage legal battles over the validity of the Will. Next of kin who are angry with the estate plan, or disinherited, often look for reasons to challenge a Will. An improperly signed Will, or unclear language in the Will, acts like an open invitation for these individuals to litigate the Estate. Most Will litigation is expensive and can add months, or years, to the time it takes to probate an Estate. The litigation expenses alone can substantially reduce the inheritance for certain beneficiaries.
A recent New Jersey case In re Estate of Ehrlich, 427 N.J. Super. 64 (App. Div. 2012), illustrates these problems. Mr. Ehrlich left an unsigned copy of a 2000 Will that contained a handwritten note from Mr. Ehrlich. The note stated that Mr. Ehrlich mailed his original Will to his Executor. The Executor died several years before Mr. Ehrlich and no one could locate the original Will.
Mr. Ehrlich’s nephew sought to probate the unsigned copy of his Will, but his niece and other nephew filed opposition. The heirs litigated the case in Trial Court. An appeal was filed and the case argued before the Appellate Division. After the Appellate Division rendered an opinion, the losing parties appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The litigation and appeals were, no doubt, very expensive and probably could have been avoided with a properly executed Will.