Last week in our Geyer Law blog, colleague Cara Chittenden stressed the importance of follow through to ensure that your wishes as expressed in your estate planning documents are actually carried out. Follow through, she explained, includes updating plans as circumstances change – and, as inevitably happens, people change their minds…..
Sometimes, I find, true stories are a help in clarifying concepts and underlining the importance of the advice we’re offering. A few true-life examples (from a Kiplinger slideshow I had saved on my laptop) underscore the importance of follow through and communication when it comes to making sure your estate plan plays out the way you intended….
When Heath Ledger died at age 28 in 2008, his will left everything to his parents and three sisters. But the will had been executed before his daughter was born, and, because Ledger had neglected to change it, the two-year old and her mother (Michelle Williams) were left with nothing. The lesson we emphasize at Geyer Law: life changing events – births, deaths, divorces, etc. – must trigger communication with the people involved, along with a review of your estate planning documents and the titling of your assets.
Olympic sprinter FloJo (Florence Griffith-Joyner) was believed to have prepared a will, but when she died at age 38, her family members couldn’t locate any documents. Years of legal battles ensued over whether FloJo’s mother was to be allowed to live in the condo rent-free for the rest of her life. To avoid that very situation, at Geyer Law, we keep copies of all the documents we prepare. Still, your family members need to know whom to contact. Without communication, even the best-laid plans cannot be carried out as intended.
Jackson had created a revocable living trust but never funded the trust with assets (or had a “pourover” provision set up to fund the trust upon death).Because the entire $500 million estate was left outside the trust, the estate was held up in probate court for years, with many challenges from creditors. This is clearly a case where follow-through might have avoided costs and heartaches.
Without follow-through and communication, estate plans can fail!
– by Jude Byanski, Attorney with Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates