Can A Contract Override My Will?
In general, a person is free to dispose of their property in their last will and testament as they wish. But a will does not override any preexisting contracts the person may have signed. Put another way, you cannot use your will to dispose of property in a way that violates the terms of a superseding contract.
Florida Court: Ohio Partnership Agreement Supersedes Florida Woman’s Will
A recent decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, Finlaw v. Finlaw, provides a helpful illustration of this point. The parties in this case are the son and grandson of a deceased woman named Twila Finlaw. In 1986, Finlaw, her husband, and another couple formed a business partnership in Ohio. They signed a written partnership agreement that provided upon the death of any partner, their interest in the partnership would be devised by will to either their spouse or “lineal descendants.” If any partner failed to follow this requirement and attempted to bequeath their interest to any other person, the partnership would be liquidated and dissolved.
Over time, all of the original partners except for Finlaw passed away, leaving her and the son of the other couple as the two remaining partners. In 2014, Finlaw executed a will leaving her entire estate, which included her share of the partnership, to her grandson. After Finlaw died, her son intervened in the probate of the will, alleging that he was entitled to his mother’s share of the partnership as her “lineal descendant.”
A Lee County, Florida, judge ruled in favor of the son, holding the partnership agreement superseded the terms of the will. On appeal, the Second District agreed. It noted that while Ohio law governed the partnership agreement, the application of either Ohio or Florida law to this case would lead to the same outcome.
The Second District explained that the original partnership agreement defined “lineal descendants” to mean the “children” of the original partners. The grandson argued the phrase “lineal descendants” meant Finlaw could choose to leave her share to a grandson. But the Second District said that under both Florida and Ohio law the courts “are required to read writings as a whole, giving meaning and effect to each part.” Here, the agreement specifically limited lineal descendants to mean children, not grandchildren. More to the point, the law of both states makes it clear that when “contracting parties expressly agree on the disposition of property upon death, that agreement generally controls over a testamentary disposition of the property.” In simple terms, the partnership agreement overruled Finlaw’s will.
Speak with a Florida Probate Litigation Lawyer Today
As you can see, a will is not always the final word when it comes to disposing of a person’s property. If you are involved in a dispute like the one discussed above and need legal advice from an experienced Pompano Beach estate and trust litigation attorney, contact the offices of Mark R. Manceri, P.A., to schedule a consultation.