Changing will provisions at the end can be problematic

John Grisham’s latest bestselling novel revolves around a wealthy man crafting a handwritten will that completely cuts out his family and leaves the fortune to his housekeeper.

Last Will And Testament

(Photo credit: Ken_Mayer)

The reason the man did this just prior to taking his own life, other than that his two adult children are fairly odious people, is the crux of “Sycamore Row,” but the novel also points to some pertinent legal issues relating to last-minute decisions regarding estates.
While an individual may have valid reasons for revoking an existing will as death appears to be imminent, such decisions must be handled carefully to avoid potentially significant problems.
“When death grows near, the issue of a legacy can come into much sharper focus,” Arden Dole wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal article. “People with money and property sometimes choose that moment to change their wills or estate plans. Done right, deathbed revisions may save their families income and estate taxes and prevent misunderstandings and administrative hassles.
“If not handled carefully, though, it can leave a will open to legal challenges that can drag on for many years, particularly if the late changes are sweeping or appear out of character.”
Ideally, an estate plan is considered carefully when it’s created and is regularly reviewed, so it won’t need major deathbed changes.
Financial advisers are often asked to tweak elements when a client nears death, even though the best estate plan is one that’s been carefully considered and subjected to frequent reviews, according to Dale.
“Sometimes, clients can’t come to a decision until faced with their own mortality,” Atlanta-based adviser Scott Beaudin was quoted as saying. “But based on that poignant moment in time, it’s possible to do things that optimize your planning.”
“When the prospect of death becomes real, it also may change a person’s views on how, and how much, to give to various individuals, or to charity,” the story stated.
However, if a member of the dying person’s family becomes involved in making late changes, it is critical that they have a power of attorney or similar document, to ward off legal challenges.
“Normally, it’s the relative of a client who calls and says, ‘My father just had a stroke, can you help me?’ ” Barry Kaplan, a wealth manager at Atlanta-based Cambridge Wealth Counsel, told the WSJ.
“Issues like taxes and the cost basis of an investment are complicated enough in normal times, and many people don’t think about them when dealing with a death in the family,” Dale wrote. “Still, last-minute changes require special caution.
“To avoid a challenge to such changes, a medical or mental competency examination can prove invaluable, notes Michael Puzo, a partner in the Boston office of law firm Hemenway and Barnes LLP. Still, he cautions against too many substantive changes at the eleventh hour.”
“Typically, it’s a bad time to change a will,” Puzo stated.

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Unusual will faced on legal hurdles

We give great respect to the words and actions of the dying.
People have been convicted of murder based almost entirely on the words spoken by their victims as the end drew near.
And recently in Canada they celebrated the 65th anniversary of what’s been called the “most unique will ever written,” one that faced no legal challenges whatsoever in spite of being so out of the ordinary.
The last will and testament of farmer Cecil George Harris of Rosetown, Saskatoon, was brief and to the point. What made it so unusual is not what was written but where the will was created and the circumstances under which its author came to write it.
“Harris scratched out the will as he was dying in 1948, having been trapped for 10 hours beneath a tractor during a heavy storm,” according to a recent tory in The Canadian Press. “Using a pocket knife, Harris wrote on the tractor’s fender the words, ‘In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife.’
“He died in the hospital that night from his injuries.”
The technical name for such a document is a holograph will, or a hand-written will, Calgary lawyer Geoff Ellwand told a reporter for Canadian news radio station CKOM.
“While it wasn’t the first of its kind, he said the fender will has become known across the world,” reporter Bre McAdam wrote.
“This was one which was written under extraordinary circumstances on an extraordinary medium: the fender of a tractor,” Ellwand was wrote as saying. “It was written in a manner, very brief, there was no doubt about his wishes. And so the courts accepted it, without a blink.”
“A judge ordered that portion of the tractor cut off and it has been displayed under a piece of glass in the Law Library ever since,” The Canadian Press article stated.

Decision ‘Will Radically Change Estate Planning’

The U.S. Supreme Court decision relating to same-sex marriages will have far-reaching effects.

English: Michael Hendricks (right) and René Le...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Among other things, according to a recent item in Forbes magazine, the ruling “will radically change estate planning for affluent same-sex married couples.”
“That’s true not just for the specific issue that was before the Court, but for other federal laws and regulations that affect estate planning for spouses,” according to the article. “One of the cases decided by the court today, United States v. Windsor, involved an important tax break for married couples. Called the marital deduction, it allows spouses to transfer as much as they want to each other, either during life or at death, without having to pay any federal estate or gift tax, provided that the recipient spouse is a U.S. citizen. Until now, same-sex couples didn’t get this break because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA. Section 3 of that law defines marriage as a “legal union between one man and one woman,” and spouse as ‘a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.’
“As a result, same-sex married couples have been forced to pay federal estate tax on their inheritance if it exceeded the tax-free amount.”
Other federal estate planning benefits are also now finally available to married gay couples that had previously been denied to them.

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Inherited Financial Security A Blessing, If Handled Correctly

Money does not equal happiness.

Let that sink in. It can be hard to believe, but it’s true. Sure, it’s easier to be unhappy when poor, but family wealth, if not handled correctly, can also be a source of grief.
In recent stories for Forbes magazine, author Thayer Willis, herself the descendant of the founders of Georgia-Pacific, looked at the yin and yang of inheriting what many would think of as automatically the key to happiness.
It can be, according to Thayer, who wrote “Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth: A Life Guide for Inheritors” and “Beyond Gold: True Wealth for Inheritors.”

“Of course I realize that family wealth is a blessing, but for reasons that would surprise the supposed know-it-alls,” Thayer wrote. “Dismiss the popular notions that you can pay off all your debts and then go crazy with the rest of your wealth; that you will have nothing to worry about; or that you will have the ultimate security. None of this is true. Nor is it the reason that family wealth is a blessing.
For me, family wealth became a blessing when I finally gathered enough focus to begin making a life for myself.”
Thayer went on to offer “the top three things that make family wealth a blessing.”
First, she indicated was a simple concept and perhaps the most important: love.
“This means family members care more about each other than they do about money,” she stated. One aspect of love is having realistic and high expectations of the next generation, with appropriate support. This is challenging for parents because it varies from one kid to the next. Everyone needs unconditional love from someone; those who don’t ever have it are handicapped.”
“Sometimes it feels like there are too many choices, but this is an illusion. Choices are an immense blessing. The choices I made when I was a young adult have led to where I am now. In my mid-20s, out of curiosity, I earned a Masters in English, and took a few counseling classes. Soon, counseling became my direction.”
Finally, Thayer offered up gratitude as the right attitude toward inherited wealth.
“By this I mean the intentional practice of gratitude for what you have been given; respecting yourself and others; showing humility, kindness and generosity; being confident and accepting others.”

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