We’ve said this before but it’s well worth repeating: make out a will, have an end-of-life program in place, and do all that you can to ensure your estate will not be fought over after you pass on.
We’d all like to believe we have happy, close-knit families, who would never take each other to court over an inheritance? The reality is sadly different!
Let’s take a look at three scenarios, where the inheritance was open to dispute, and learn from their mistakes.
Scenario 1. “Amanda” inherited all her husband’s possessions when he passed away.
She lived a decade longer and then died, leaving her estate to her three children.
Problem is her will stated that her assets should “be divided evenly among my surviving children”. But what does "evenly" actually mean?
While her intentions were good, and she did not want to favor any of her children over the others, the will is vague, and some of her assets are actually impossible to divide.
The liquid assets can be divvied up easily enough, but two of her children wanted the antique grandfather clock that has been in the family for generations?
Then there is the piece of property with a home on it that could be sold with the proceeds divided among the children, but one child wants the actual property and doesn’t feel he should have to reimburse the others for their potential share of the proceeds. The case goes into probate, and two of Amanda’s surviving children wind up in a bitter dispute over the real estate while no one can decide who should get the grandfather clock. Amanda thought she was doing the right thing by being fair, but true fairness would have been to delineate what happens to each of the assets and who gets which specific items in question.
Scenario 2. “Frank” became a modest success in the tech industry with various computer applications he developed. He owned the sole rights to these programs and made a decent amount of money from them. Frank was relatively young and in good health, his wife and two children were the center of his life; they meant the world to him.
Frank wasn’t expecting the load to give way on the lumber truck he was passing on a straight stretch of road one night on his way home from work. Frank wasn’t expecting to die until he was an old man surrounded by his grandchildren. Frank left no will behind.
As is the case in most such situations, the state appointed an administrator for Frank’s estate; his wife stood to inherit all his liquid assets, the joint bank account and the home they owned together. But then a petition was filed for probate. The claim on Frank’s estate was that his patents and ownership for the computer application programs should go to the person who helped him develop them. Since there was no will in place, the probate court judge agreed there was some merit to the petition. Frank’s wife was not a greedy person, but she did see the ownership rights as a way to help support her and Frank’s children.
A months-long court battle ensued; one that could have been avoided had Frank made out and affirmed a standing will delineating ownership of the applications to his wife.
Scenario 3. “Pat” lived to a ripe old age, worked hard for everything he had, and enjoyed a comfortable life in his retirement. Pat never got married, didn’t have any children, was an only child himself, and though he had many friends, he never had any family to speak of.
Upon his death, with no will in place, the state attempted to find any living relatives but to no avail.
His estate was then taken possession of by the state where he lived, and the assets sold off or otherwise liquidated. Pat could have left his assets to a friend, or a charity, or even his cat. But because he had no relatives, he didn’t think it was important enough to make out a will, and the state ended up with everything.
We hope you find these hypothetical scenarios of use in painting a picture regarding matters of probate. It’s always essential to have a standing, specifically delineated will, even if you just want all your assets to go to charity.
Better than having relatives fight over your things after you’re gone, or the state just taking it all.