According to Alexander A Bove, Jr., author of The Complete Book of Wills, Estates, & Trusts, “Wills are almost universally regarded as a sort of permanent memorial, a person’s final statement to the world…” Bove reminds us, though, that creating a will that is legally valid may not be as simple a matter as it seems.
Bove uses two examples of wills gone awry to illustrate his point:
Just one year before his death in 1896, Alfred Nobel handwrote his will in Swedish, explaining that he wished his assets to be invested in safe securities, with the interest earned going to prizes to be distributed annually to “those, who during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” Nobel had chosen a “DIY” (do it yourself) will because he disliked lawyers. Ironically, the will was so poorly drafted, many legal issues arose and more than half a million dollars of Nobel’s legacy went towards paying legal and court fees!
Almost one hundred years after Nobel, Nevada billionaire Howard Hughes died. More than forty different wills surfaced, each claiming to be the man’s last will. The most famous of these was “the Mormon will”, which purportedly was found on the desk of an official of the Mormon Church. This will left 1/16th of the Hughes estate to a gas station operator who had picked Howard Hughes up on a deserted road and given him a lift to Las Vegas and a quarter to make a phone call. After a trial lasting almost a year and costing several million dollars in legal fees, it was ruled that Hughes had died without a will. The legal battles continue to this very day, Bove points out.
The reason both these wills were so important in settling the two estates, Bove notes, is that both these famous estates consisted almost entirely of probate property. “A person’s will deals only with property or assets that are part of the probate estate.”
Probate property, Gove stresses, means any type of property that stands in your name alone at the time of your death or that would require action on the part of your executor to transfer. Probate property would not include jointly owned property or assets payable to a named beneficiary (such as life insurance, an annuity, or a retirement account).
At Geyer & Associates, we advise our clients on the need to plan for their entire estate cohesively since not all assets pass in accordance with the client’s will.
Your estate plan may – and probably should – include several documents in addition to a will, such as trusts, Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and Health Care Powers of Attorney. You may be far from having a Nobel or a Hughes sized estate, but regardless of your financial status, our goal is to accomplish your objectives and to provide for your family in the best way possible, creating documents that are legally valid. We then explain your documents to you in straightforward language that is easy for you and your family to understand.
No one wants to have their will go awry!