What If a Will Is Inconsistent with Itself?

Drafting a will is an important step for any Texas resident, as it helps to ensure that your estate and assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. As such, it needs consistent language that specifies the intent of the decedent when leaving behind assets and properties to the proper beneficiaries. However, sometimes that language is ambiguous. What if a will is inconsistent with itself? The Stanley v. Henderson case helps provides insight into this topic.

Facts & Procedural History

The case centers around the will of a woman who died in 1940. In her will, the decedent left a portion of her estate to her granddaughter with the stipulation that the money be used for her education and support. However, the will also contained a provision stating that if her granddaughter died before reaching the age of 21, the money would be distributed among the testator’s other grandchildren.

Unfortunately, the granddaughter passed away at the age of 19. The decedent’s husband distributed the money among the other grandchildren as specified in the will. This decision was challenged by one of the testator’s daughters, who argued that the provision regarding the distribution of funds in the event of the granddaughter’s death should not be given effect, as it conflicted with the previous provision regarding her education and support.


Upon death, a decedent’s will is entered into probate to determine how their property will be distributed. If a will is found to be inconsistent with itself, it can create problems for the executor and the beneficiaries.

A will in the State of Texas must be in writing and signed by the testator (the person making the will). The witness requirements for a will in Texas are different than other states, so it’s important to make sure that the witnesses meet those requirements.

If a will is found to be inconsistent with itself, the court will look at the entire document to try to figure out what the testator’s intent was. If the court can’t figure out what the intent was, then they may distribute the property in accordance with intestacy rules. This can result in property being distributed differently than what the testator intended.

Preventing Inconsistencies in a Will

It is not uncommon for a testator to want to leave different amounts of property to different beneficiaries. However, if these amounts are not specified in the will, or if the will is otherwise unclear, it may be difficult or impossible to distribute the estate according to the testator’s wishes. To avoid this problem, it is important to be as specific as possible when drafting a will.

When specifying how much property should go to each beneficiary, it is best to use dollar amounts rather than percentages. This ensures that there is no confusion about how the estate should be divided. Additionally, all assets should be listed in the will, along with who should receive them. This prevents any ambiguity about what the testator wished to include in their estate.

It is also important to name an executor in the will. The executor is responsible for carrying out the terms of the will and ensuring that the beneficiaries receive their inheritance according to the testator’s wishes. By naming an executor, you can help ensure that your wishes are carried out even if your will is inconsistent with itself.

As it relates to the case, the court found that the provision regarding the distribution of funds in the event of the granddaughter’s death was a general testamentary disposition, while the provision regarding her education and support was a specific one. The court held that in cases of conflicting provisions in a will, the specific provision should be given effect over the general one.

The court further noted that the testator’s intent, as expressed in the will, was that the granddaughter’s education and support were to be provided for as long as she lived, and in the event of her death, the money would be distributed among the other grandchildren. This intent was not contradicted by the conflicting provisions, and the court found that the executor’s decision to distribute the funds among the other grandchildren was in line with the testator’s intent.

The Takeaway

When a will is inconsistent with itself, the court may determine that it does not reflect the wishes of the testator. If this occurs, then any provisions that are contradictory or unclear can be removed from consideration in order to ensure that the document reflects what was intended by its creator.

Ultimately, when creating your will it is important to make sure all language used within it is clear and consistent so as not to leave room for potential misinterpretation in case of dispute.

Do you need help with a probate matter in Austin or the surrounding area?  We are Austin probate attorneys.  We help clients navigate the probate process.   Call today for a free confidential consultation, 512-273-7444.

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The content of this website is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The information presented may not apply to your situation and should not be acted upon without consulting a qualified probate attorney. We encourage you to seek the advice of a competent attorney with any legal questions you may have.

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