As estate planning lawyers, we have seen the realm of unfortunate truths revealed during the course of reading a deceased client’s will. While we know what’s in the will, we aren’t always privy to how it will affect family members. As a rule, if a client is concerned about how a family member will react once a secret is discovered, we encourage that client to come clean while he can. By the time the will is revealed, it’s too late for him to provide explanations or even express his sorrow for any pain that secret might cause. Often, though, the client opts not to do so. And that’s fine, too. Our job is to ensure our client receives the best representation in his estate planning purposes while also providing solid advice that will allow him peace of mind. Here are three “oh no” moments when the will is read that could have been avoided.
It’s not at all uncommon for close friends or other acquaintances to be remembered in a will. Typically, smaller token gifts are left to let someone know the impact they had in the deceased’s life. But what happens when it’s more than an acquaintance? What happens when it’s a previously unknown girlfriend who receives a rather substantial gift? That’s happened. In fact, it happens more than people realize. In some cases, though, not only is the girlfriend a huge surprise, but the gift is substantial and the estate has ended up paying gift taxes on that gift. In other words, the wife had no choice but to pay the tax on the gift the girlfriend received.
Did you know that if you divorce, changing your estate planning documents and revising your will is not enough? In another scenario that plays out all too often, a client may make all of the changes in his estate plan, but doesn’t make changes to his retirement documents. The retirement documents trump the estate plan, which means there are a fair share of retirement savings being left to former spouses. Your estate planning attorney can and will remind you of how important it is to ensure those changes are made across the board, but because your retirement account is tied into your employment, this is something the lawyer may not be able to review and remind you a month later.
In another case, a father disinherited his son. Unfortunately, he forgot to notify his estate planning lawyer and a year later, the client passed away. The disinherited son, who wasn’t really disinherited in the paperwork ended up gifting a substantial amount of money to a cult that was being watched by the FBI. In the meantime, his deceased father’s second wife and his sister lost everything because the deceased failed to follow through on other important changes as well. The government ended up with the lion’s share of the estate.
These examples highlight the importance of updating estate planning documents. To review yours or if you’d like to get your estate plan together, we welcome the opportunity to discuss your options. Contact us today.
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