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What courts look at regarding dueling wills

On Behalf of | Aug 6, 2019 | Wills |

A will is an important aspect of an estate plan. It allows the estate holder to designate his or her estate as desired.

Sometimes, parties may update their will. If the previous will is not properly discarded, or if the new will is not presented to all involved parties, a dueling will situation may occur. There are a few key things the court considers in determining the best way to move forward with the estate.


The court examines the dueling wills to determine the validity of both. The wills may contain key verbiage to help distinguish the validity of one over the other. For example, some testators will note that a new or revised will revokes any previous will documents. In such cases, the second will would be the one the courts utilize. Another checking point could be the New Jersey Will Registry

Specific content

If both wills appear to be valid, the court will examine the documents in greater detail and compare them, looking for specific language or content. Should it appear that the documents are quite similar aside for minor changes, the newer version of the document may prevail. On the other hand, should the two documents be quite different, with no indicators of what the testator would prefer, the court will likely turn to traditional measures. In other words, the court will likely go with the will document that assigns more assets to the immediate family.

Timing of document

Not all disputes occur upfront. Depending on the state, there is a timeframe after the probate process begins where a party may still submit a new will. If a party finds a dueling will that is valid and proven to be the testator’s last will and testament, the court will enforce it.

The introduction of dueling wills can extend the already tedious probate process. Therefore, it is best to ensure that there is only one will in place at any one time and that the testator legalizes it and informs trusted parties of its location.