Three Stories of Estate Planning

  1. Mary was a well known church organist. She had a home and modest other assets. She did have an expensive piano, a large diamond ring and a collection of spiritual music. She had a sister named Susan who she was close to but she was unmarried and had no children. In 1971, she obtained a form and did a homemade will. The will stated that her sister would receive everything except he r collection of music and her piano. Her sister was also named as executor. These items were to go to the church. She had a neighbor, Sleazy Sam and Elder John from her church witness the will. Her sister, Susan died in 1978. Sleazy Sam had the original will in his possession. In 1982, Mary died. Sleazy Sam made a copy of the 1971 will. He made a copy of it and then inserted a bequest to himself and named himself as the personal representative. He forged a new will even tracing Elder John's signature. He then destroyed the original will. He went into the house and took the ring and sold it. He was going to also sell the house and take all the money but he didn't have title to it. He hired Kitchen Table Ken, an attorney to commence a probate. On receiving the notice required by the probate court, Mary's son, Art contacted us. We were able to stop Sam and secure the assets and the house. We also were able to obtain a judgment for the value of the ring but it cost the estate a lot in terms of Attorney's fees and court costs. We believe that she wanted her church to benefit from her musical possessions, but this also did not happen. How could she have avoided this mess?
    • She should have had a competent attorney prepare her will
    • She should have had a provision to cover the possibility that her sister would die first.
    • She should have had her original will put on file with the Probate court or else put in a safe deposit box
    • She might also have provided a copy of the will to elder John at the church. She should have included a special bequest to her church
  2. Jake was an old curmudgeon. He was married to Carmen. Carmen had started a divorce action because she couldn't stand being with him any longer. Jake asked his nephew, Nick to take him to a lawyers office to do a will. Nick took him to see Ole Barrister, a fine experienced lawyer. Ole gave him an estate planning questionnaire. He left most of it blank, leaving Ole with the impression that he was single and had no children. Ole drafted a will leaving everything to his nieces and nephews. A few months after the will was signed, Jake died. One of the nieces told Carmen that she had received a probate notice from Gordon Goodfellow, an experienced estate attorney.
    • We found out that the final papers in the divorce had never been submitted to the court and therefore made a claim for her statutory share of the estate. Gordon then discovered that Jake had an illegitimate son. After several court hearings and with the involvement (and cost) of three law firms, the estate was eventually divided between the wife and the son. How could he have avoided this mess? Jake should have told Ole the whole story.
    • If he had told his attorney the whole story. Ole would have written out the son and would have made sure that the divorce was finalized. He then would have been able to prepare a proper estate plan for Jake.
  3. Wilbur was a grumpy old coot. He had a wonderful wife named Gladys. Gladys had a sister named Helen who was also a cheerful and helpful person. Gladys and Wilbur had no children but they had a considerable amount of assets. Wilbur always assumed that Gladys would outlive him and so his initial estate plan was predicated on that assumption. Back in the 70's they had us do a trust and transferred everything into it. They named Helen and her husband Fred as trustees. Wilbur and Gladys wanted the residual of the trust to go to the University of Minnesota Foundation for a scholarship fund. Gladys died in 1985. In 1987, Wilbur told us that Fred had died and that Helen did not want to act as trustee. He also asked our opinion of the character of a woman named Nora who worked at a local bank. We told Wilbur that we had known Nora and her husband Alvin for many years and that she was totally trustworthy. With that assurance, he appointed Nora as trustee and amended the trust. In 1990, Wilbur became almost totally blind and dependant on caregivers. Nora discovered that one of his caregivers was talking Wilbur into giving her money. Armed with that information, Nora and I went into Court and had Nora appointed as Conservator. This put Nora in total control of his person and finances. In 1995, Wilbur died. A couple of grand nieces (who had never bothered to see him when he was alive) contacted attorneys to contest the trust and the will. Neither attorney felt that there was any basis for a contest and no court proceedings were ever commenced. The University of Minnesota Foundation reviewed the final account and was very pleased when they saw the excellent job Nora had done in administering Wilbur's trust and his affairs. Wilbur and Gladys' legacy will be appreciated for many years to come. What went right in this case?
    • Wilbur had a well thought out and long-standing plan for his estate.
    • Wilbur selected a very competent and honest person to handle his affairs.(Nora)

Wilbur shared his concerns and his plans with us so that we could adjust the documents to keep his plan intact despite the changes in his life.

The third example involved 10 times the assets of the other two estates but the total attorneys fees and administrative costs to wrap it up were less.

We at Bruce L. Beck & Associates, L.L.C. have been here for a long time. We know the law. We know the procedure. We know the community and we know the court system. We also know other people and resources to help you make it all work.