Third Party Contracts: When Wills and Other Contracts Conflict
Discovering that the will of a loved one may be subject to promises made in contracts you didn’t know about can be devastating. While the emotional reactions are bound to be tricky for some, the practical matter of determining if the will or the third-party contract prevails requires immediate attention.
If you or the personal representative of a loved one’s estate is dealing with a conflict between a will and another contract, please contact a Fort Myers estate litigation lawyer at Friedin & Inglis, P.A. for assistance.
Florida law provides that the intention of the testator (the person who made the will and is now passed), as he or she expressed them in the will, controls the legal effect of the testator’s dispositions or how the estate is divided.
On the surface, this seems simple. What the will says goes. But other factors can make a difference and there are always people who will try to contest the will or bring a claim that their contract deserves to be honored.
How Judges Decide
A judge may decide a conflict between a will and a third-party contract based on a variety of factors. These relate to the validity of each document — the will and the contract — and how each was created.
Express language means language that is clear and specifically stated.
If a business contract has express language that shows a specific agreement in a certain set of circumstances — for instance, what happens when one party dies — but the will does not use express language in a conflicting element, the courts may uphold the express language.
Usually, the intention of the will prevails. If the intention of an element in a business contract were to limit something in the will and other factors were in place, this may also be a situation where a business contract prevails.
It is still more likely that the court favors the will, but each situation is different.
Some business contracts are specifically structured to protect investors against the risk of dealing with spouses or significant others who may derail operations or limit profits.
This can be a sticky situation. Normally, the law maintains the will prevails, but if parties to the contract can bring a particularly strong case, a spouse is more likely to obtain favorable resolution than a boyfriend or girlfriend.
This may involve spousal rights in general more than the business contract itself, as well.
In real estate, the person who contracts is the only one bound by the contract, so a spouse is not obliged to fulfill a contract on the decedent’s behalf. The estate may have to satisfy elements of the contract in some cases, though.
Many real estate contracts provide for what happens when someone dies, but if not, the court will decide based on the situation. In some cases, an estate may have to sell a piece of property. In other cases, deposits may not be returned to relatives, but sales are not compelled.
Discuss your specific situation closely with your estate litigation lawyer to learn more about how to best protect your interests.