ESTATE PLANNING HORROR STORIES FROM THE REAL WORLD (#1)
”The Last Minute Will”
A 91 year old gentleman passed away from cancer after having spent his last weeks in hospice. Although not wealthy, he did leave a $400,000.00 estate to his 3 sons and daughter, all of whom were adults at the time of his death. He prepared a Will many years ago which provided that his estate should be divided equally among the 4 children and advised the children of his intentions. However, 10 days before his death, while he was so seriously ill that he was only conscious for a few minutes each day, his daughter had him sign a new Will which left her 70% of the assets, with the remaining 30% being divided 10% to each brother. Needless to say, when the brothers found out about this turn of events, after their father’s death, they were furious.
After the brothers received checks for their 10% share, they hired attorneys to contest the Will, which had been signed in extremely weak handwriting. During investigation into the facts of the Will contest, however, it was learned that the daughter several months previously had convinced her father to change the title on all of his holdings from being owned in his individual name to being owned jointly with his daughter, with the right of survivorship. This meant that all of the father’s possessions and holdings passed legally to the daughter regardless of the terms of the Will. Because the assets were jointly owned, rather than individually owned, the terms of the Will simply did not control them. The brothers gave up the will contest at that point.
In this scenario, no one was happy. The daughter created irreconcilable differences with her brothers while voluntarily providing them with 30% of the assets, when she legally could have kept the entire estate to herself because of the joint ownership. The sons were upset with their diminished inheritance and never will speak to their sister again because of her uncaring, selfish attitude convincing their father to change his Will in her favor at the end of his life.
How could this situation been avoided? If the father had prepared a revocable living trust, naming some combination of the children as trustees, so that no one child could make decisions alone, and had spelled out his intentions for the distribution of his assets in that trust document, he not only could have made sure that his wealth was distributed according to his intentions, but he also could have prevented the complete split between his sons and his daughter. Additionally, if that trust had been regularly updated, the father’s intent would continue to have been made clear to all of the siblings right up until the very end. Planning ahead and maintaining an ongoing relationship with an estate planning attorney at the Cramer Law Center can make it extremely difficult for such last minute influences to occur and can prevent this horror story from happening to your family.