This is the second post in my blog series “Estate Mistakes”. In my first blog I talked about a recent encounter with a family that had literally thrown away a fortune, and worse yet, the woman that died poor and in need of better care all while having that very same fortune in her possession.
Tonight, I want to talk about an incident I was peripherally involved in several years ago with an elderly couple that died suddenly in an accident without having wills.
Well, that’s not totally accurate. They had wills, just not very good ones. His was the same one he had when his first wife passed away some 30 years earlier. Hers was a bit newer, her first husband had only passed about twenty years earlier.
I don’t have to go into too much detail for you to know that this was a chaotic situation. Never mind that the spousal situation was completely different. There were children named in one will that obviously were not in the other. The real and personal property listed was almost completely different for both of them when compared to their current situation. The terms regarding last wishes/arrangements were in complete conflict with one another. And in both cases, the person(s) named to be the personal representative for each person was already dead themselves.
Obviously, none of the details mattered. Absent any other agreements or instructions, the conflicting wills in a case like this pretty much automatically cancel each other out even if they had been reasonably current. In a situation like this, the Probate Judge steps in and starts making decisions on behalf of the estate to keep things legal and as reasonable as possible.
This is the worst of all possible situations for the family. It was especially bad in this case because the children and extended families of each person were not in any way friendly for reasons that were never made clear. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of lawyers involved in this mess, and it took years to resolve. And in the end, I’m sure no one was happy with the way it worked out. I don’t know the whole story about the outcome, but my understanding is that a very substantial estate was reduced to a pittance after all the legal fees.
So, kids the moral of the story is:
Have a will. Keep it current. Review and update it any time you have a significant life event; like say, marrying a new person several years after your first spouse passes away.