Question: A will says, “I would like for person A and person B to be able to pick out any items they may want to keep that have not already been bequeathed as previously noted in this section.” What does the term “I would like” mean in a will? Does it mean A and B can legally claim all the rest of the assets of the estate (cars, furniture, etc.)?

Thank you in advance!

Answer: Unfortunately, while there are terms of art with agreed upon meanings that you will frequently find in wills, this isn’t one of them. Without the benefit of having seen the rest of the will, my guess is that the person who wrote it probably did provide some instructions on who should receive specific items of property, and then meant for person A and person B to be able to take ownership of anything they wanted from whatever was left. I am also going to assume that this instruction only concerns tangible personal property, not money, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc. But you should confirm that I am right about that.

The way this will is drafted creates two problem that would have been easy to avoid. First, the portion of the will that you quoted doesn’t provide any direction as to what should happen if A and B want the same stuff. Hopefully, there is a clause somewhere else in the will that specifies what should happen if A and B cannot agree on a division of the deceased person’s property. What I probably would have done is allow A and B to divide the property up in any manner to which they both agree. But if they are unable to come to an agreement by a certain deadline, name a third party who will make the decision for them. Or require that it all be sold and the cash divided evenly between them.

Second, to answer your question about the words “I would like,” it’s not clear that these have any legal significance. And while it might not cause any harm, extraneous words are never helpful. A will is not the place to opine on what you would like. The purpose is to provide clear instructions to your friends and family on what should be done with your assets. The more wiggle room that you give people to argue that the statements in your will were merely expressions about what you hoped would happen, and not binding instructions on what must be done, the more you increase the risk of an argument. Maybe even litigation. A well drafted will states, without any qualification, where each item in your estate should go.

Ambiguous language like this in a will is a tell-tale sign of a do-it-yourself effort. If you haven’t studied legal drafting, or know what the consequences can be when it isn’t done well, it can be difficult to predict what won’t be clear once your family needs to rely on your instructions.


 

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