Three Stories of Estate Planning
- 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
- 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.
- 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.