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Can verbal promises made outside a will lead to litigation?

When someone decides to change a detail of a will, it is often not enough to just declare the intention aloud. Rather, Ontario planners should always put changes in writing to avoid future conflict. When this is not done, and someone insists a promise was made that is not included in the legal documents, it can lead to estate litigation through an estoppel claim.

There are many instances when an estoppel claim can arise. For example, a caretaker that the person being cared for promised to leave the caretaker a sentimental item. Or, a significant other could claim a promise was made to include him or her in the will. When these claims are for sizable amounts, sentimental items or contradict the understanding of those in the will, this can lead to significant conflict.

Estoppel claims can leave executors in a bind, especially if they were instructions given verbally that differ from the legal documentation. Executors should do their best to remain neutral in these cases, but may need to share what the deceased told them about their wishes. It can be a major challenge for executors to navigate such litigation if beneficiaries feel they are doing the wrong thing.

The best way to avoid this difficult process is for an estate planner to put all of his or her wishes in writing. Visiting one's estate planning lawyer to ensure wishes are clearly stated in a will is important. Those who have questions about a how verbal agreements may affect the estate of a loved one, or are considering estate litigation, should also seek advice from an Ontario lawyer.

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