Wills and Trusts: Resolving Ambiguous Language

Legal cases involving wills and trusts that contain ambiguous language are common to every probate firm. In cases where a will or trust has multiple interpretations, the court may need to step in to resolve the ambiguities.

Legal document errors and typos are challenging to correct, especially if the document’s author is no longer present to convey their genuine intent. The Law Offices of Scott J. Goldstein can assist you with this matter.

The Definition: Ambiguous Language 

The legal definition of ambiguous relates to language in a contract that could be interpreted in various ways. If a contract contains vague phrases, the courts may need to analyze extrinsic evidence in order to identify the parties’ original intentions and determine the true meaning of the confusing wording.

A probate lawsuit with ambiguous language usually falls into one of two categories: trust litigation or estate litigation, both of which concern the provisions of a decedent’s trust or will.

Patent vs. latent ambiguity

There are two kinds of ambiguous language, patent ambiguity and latent ambiguity.

  • Latent Ambiguity – When inappropriate language is not clearly visible on the face of the document but comes to light when the executor or trustee uses it.
  • Patent Ambiguity – A patent ambiguity happens when the document’s language contains many meanings visible on the front of the paper.

Dealing with Ambiguous Language in Wills and Trusts

Many people use estate planning software to devise their estate plans, making wills and trusts ambiguous. This technology can pose a problem for those with large estates or trusts with multiple assets. Its cookie-cutter approach ignores the many subtle facets of estate planning that a professional in the field would consider. As a result, there’s always the possibility of drafting a document with unclear wording.

If your deceased loved one utilized estate planning software or made a blunder that resulted in unclear words in their will or trust, you may need to take steps to ensure that your loved one’s real wishes are carried out, and you receive the inheritance you’re entitled to.

Follow the steps outlined below when you suspect a decedent’s will or trust has a latent or patent ambiguity.

  • Obtain the assistance of a probate lawyer to examine the will or trust.
  • Collect any external evidence that may help to clarify the unclear terminology.
  • Send a letter to the court requesting instructions.