In my practice I have seen quite a bit of drama and tear-jerkers as a result of the lack of estate planning. Now that award season is here, I started thinking about which of my cases would be my choice for the "worst case" award caused by a deceased person's failure to leave a will or trust.
Here are a few of the nominees, in no particular order.
First nominee: A young executive was raised by his mother, who made sure he stayed out of trouble, had good role models around and was well educated. Dad abandoned him and his mother when he was two. The young man was killed in a tragic automobile accident and left no wife or children. Sadly, his absentee father received a share of his estate equal to that of his loving mother.
Second nominee: Papa had three children with his wife and another "on the side" during a brief affair. After mom passed, papa passed also. His four children shared equally in his estate, even though his three children never even knew about or met their half-sibling before papa's death.
Third nominee: Husband and wife found each other late in life, after the deaths of their respective spouses. They put their assets together and bought a beautiful house, taking title in "joint tenancy". Each had a child from their prior marriage. The husband's son lived in another city and rarely saw his father and step-mother. The wife's daughter lived close by and cared for them as they advanced in age. The wife died first and the house passed to the husband. After the husband passed away, the house went to the husband's son, leaving the wife's daughter with no reward for her devotion.
Fourth nominee: After falling in love, husband and wife were married. They made each other beneficiaries of their life insurance and pension plans at work. Over time problems developed and although they separated, they never divorced. Wife continued raising their young children; meanwhile husband found a new love and started a new life. Wife was killed in a tragic accident. Husband cashed in the life insurance and pension benefits. He then put the kids in foster care and resumed his new life.
Fifth nominee: A young man moved from his dysfunctional family and started a new life hundreds of miles away. Over the years he found new friends who became his "family". They shared each others' lives for decades. The man, now an old man, passed away without having ever married or having children of his own. His biological nieces and nephews, whom he had never met, came to town and claimed his estate. No one in the man's surrogate family, whom he loved dearly, got a thing.
I have other cases that deserve honorable mention; however, my space here is limited. If someone you know is in the process of creating a real-life drama or tear-jerker, do them a favor and let them know about the benefits of estate planning.
© 2013 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.