Want to Settle Scores with Your Will? Here’s Why You Should Skip It

Although it can be difficult to come to terms with the management of your estate and family members that you wish to disinherit, using your will to settle a score and leave in specific clauses that make things more difficult for your loved ones is not always recommended. If you do desire to disinherit someone in your will, there are ways of doing this without adding fuel to the fire.
Your will is an opportunity to bring order for what can be a confusing and difficult time for your family. The moment can be further complicated if you take one last swing by trying to settle a score.
People will get the picture when you intentionally disinherit or acknowledge them. It’s not easy to approach the process of estate planning when there are numerous challenges and difficult family situations involved, but a tactful estate planning attorney can help walk you through this process in a way that accomplishes your goals without making things work.
If you have final issues with your loved ones as you put together an estate plan, it’s better to not mention them at all. Otherwise, you risk adding more fuel to the fire when your other family members are grieving your loss.
Be aware that without proper estate planning tools, some aggravated “beneficiaries” may try to argue that your will is not valid, causing disputes with other loved ones as your case moves into the court system.
Set up a time to talk through your concerns with an experienced VA Beach estate planning lawyer.

Some Wills Have a Way of Making People Laugh

Senior couple sitting on grass together relaxing

Senior couple sitting on grass together relaxing

Not everyone takes a grim approach when it comes to the Grim Reaper.
A delightful website based in the United Kingdom focuses on last wills in which a bit of whimsy or human or error or outrageous personality comes shining through. kstock
Among them:
“Anthony Scott, in his last will and testament wrote, ‘To my first wife Sue, whom I always promised to mention in my will. Hello Sue!’ ” 
“One well-meaning will maker gave a legacy to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds. By bizarre coincidence, Frank Clifford’s last will and testament included a legacy to the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals.”
Other examples on the site include the man who left money to his employer to purchase a book on manners.
And then there was a rather strange religious last will and testament.
“Norman Earnest Digweed’s will entered the hall of famous wills when he directed that his estate of £26,000 be placed in trust for 80 years for Jesus Christ should he return within that time. Quite a number of people came forward to claim the estate which nevertheless passed to the crown after the 80 years was up in 1977.”
The website, for all the humor it derives from the odd, error-prone or bitter final wishes, does conclude on a serious note.
“Wills can be a laugh, but what is more worrying is that many people procrastinate with their wills. Thousands of people die each year without having made their wills. And in many cases, the state will benefit while their families and friends lose out. Start to make a will now so your loved ones don’t miss out.”

Some Approach Wills With a Bit of Whimsy

Last Will Concept

Last Will Concept

Deciding who gets what and what goes where after a person dies is generally a pretty solemn undertaking.
But not always.
Some folks are able to take a more lighthearted approach when it comes to a last will and testament, and history abounds with some fascinating examples, according to the website listverse.com.
“While most wills are left in order to make certain that our financial affairs are taken care of after our death, some people have used them to make political points, or just for a bit of a laugh,” according to an article on the site . The Roman poet Virgil, for instance, initially wanted his epic Aeneid destroyed upon his death because he had not completed all planned 24 books of the work.
“When his friends found out, they managed to finally convince him to remove the request from his will,” the site states. “He consented and the poem was published to great acclaim.”
In his will, Charles Dickens demanded that the mourners “who attend my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hatband or other such revolting absurdity,” according to the article.
“In addition to the above, Dickens also wrote that he was not to have a public funeral and the place and time of his funeral were not to be made public. He also requested an inexpensive and simple funeral with only three plain ‘mourning coaches.’ His requests were ignored on a grand scale. He was honored with a huge funeral cortege, with all members present in full funeral regalia. His funeral was a national event.”
Benjamin Franklin sought in his final wishes to prevent his daughter from wearing jewelry after his death. He referred to it as a “useless pastime.”
“Benjamin Franklin was one of the most admired men in the Western world in the late 18th century,” the site explains. “The reason for his odd request was that as former ambassador to France, Franklin was given a portrait of King Louis XVI in a frame studded with 408 diamonds. He left this picture and frame to his daughter Sarah with the above proviso to prevent her from removing the diamonds from the frame to make jewelry.”

Without A Will, Legislature’s Guesses Hold Sway

Last Will and Testament

Last Will and Testament

Most people should say that when it comes to dying without a will, there’s no way.
But far too many folks manage do find a way, and this can have potentially devastating consequences, according to the American Bar Association.
“If you die intestate, without a will, your state’s laws of descent and distribution will determine who receives your property by default,” according to the association. These laws vary from state to state, but typically the distribution would be to your spouse and children, or if none, to other family members. A state’s plan often reflects the legislature’s guess as to how most people would dispose of their estates and builds in protections for certain beneficiaries, particularly minor children.
“That plan may or may not reflect your actual wishes, and some of the built-in protections may not be necessary in a harmonious family setting. A will allows you to alter the state’s default plan to suit your personal preferences. It also permits you to exercise control over a myriad of personal decisions that broad and general state default provisions cannot address.”
A will, whether a simple one or a document of significant complexity, reflects the will of the person who signs his or her name to it, and can provide a lasting last memory for family and friends left behind.
Sometimes, however, the ABA warns, a will alone might not be enough to ensure a descendant’s wishes are fully and properly carried out.
“In many instances, consumers prepare wills believing that the will governs who will inherit their assets when in fact, the title (ownership) of various accounts or real property, for example, as joint tenants, or beneficiary designations for IRAs, life insurance and certain other assets control the distribution of most or even all assets,” the article states. “This is why merely addressing your will is rarely sufficient to accomplish your goals.”

Wills And Trusts Require Expertise, Not ‘Cheaper’ Alternatives

Estate planning

Estate planning

There is no easy way out, certainly no simple way out, when it comes to estate planning.
As the American Bar Association website points out, in all likelihood the do-it-yourself estate planner has a client who could use better advice.
“It is easy to be lured by advertisements claiming you can save time and money by drafting your own will or trust using do-it-yourself websites, retail software or fill-in-the-blank will or trust kits from the bookstore,” the site states  “It is unlikely that these alternatives will generate a suitable plan that accomplishes all of your objectives. Only a qualified trusts and estates lawyer can interpret the myriad laws bearing on property rights, taxes, wills, probate, and trusts. More important, canned programs and forms cannot provide the wide range of legal advice to assure that the form is correct, that assets passing outside of your will or trust are properly handled, that state law nuances are taken into account, or that relevant tax, legal and personal issues are properly addressed.”
Far from being the more expensive option, the ABA says consulting an attorney can actually be the less costly alternative in the long run.
“On the other hand, you can save time and money by preparing for a meeting with your estate planning lawyer. You can organize your information regarding your assets, liabilities, and title arrangements and think about your feelings regarding providing for various family members. Most lawyers practicing in this area have questionnaires that will help you with this process. You should take with you copies of important documents such as previous wills or trusts, powers of attorney, life insurance policies, employment benefits, and prenuptial agreements and divorce decrees.”

For Caregivers, Ensuring Legal Matters Essential

Doctor laying hand on senior man's shoulder

Doctor laying hand on senior man’s shoulder

Caregivers of people with serious illnesses, particularly cognitive issues of the elderly, have a lot on their plate, but they also have an obligation to make future legal preparations for their loved ones.
“As a caregiver, you should begin making legal preparations soon after your loved one has been diagnosed with a serious illness,” states an article on the webmd website. “People with Alzheimer’s disease and other long-term illnesses may have the capacity to manage their own legal and financial affairs right now. But as these diseases advance, they will need to rely on others to act in their best interests. This transition is never easy. However, advance planning allows people with a long-term disease and their families to make decisions together for what may come.
“Clearly written legal documents that outline your loved one’s wishes and decisions are essential for caregivers. These documents can authorize another person to make healthcare and financial decisions, including plans for long-term care. If the person being cared for has the legal capacity, the level of mental functioning necessary to sign official documents, he or she should actively participate in legal planning. To give your loved one the best care possible, obtain legal advice and services from an attorney experienced with these issues. If the person you’re caring for is age 65 or older, consider hiring an attorney who practices elder law, a specialized area of law focusing on issues that typically affect the elderly.”
Webmd.com advises caregivers to be certain that important documents are in place, including:

  • Power of attorney
  • Durable power of attorney for health care, also known as health care proxy
  • Living will
  • Living trust
  • Will


Some Pointers On Finding New Estate Planning Help

As if moving to a new state wasn’t burdensome enough, relocating almost always means having to find a new estate-planning attorney.

An article on the website about.com by wills and estate-planning expert offers some advice to make this part of settling down elsewhere easier.
“Are you looking for a new estate planning attorney because you’ve moved to a new state?” Garber writes.  “Then the first place to check is with your current estate planning attorney because chances are he or she will know one or more estate planning attorneys who practice in your new state of residence. If not, then … ask any local family members, new neighbors, new business contacts, or your new accountant, banker and/or financial advisor for referrals to an estate planning attorney in your area since chances are one or more of them will be able to give you a referral.”
Garber, a former estate-planning attorney who switched to the financial services industry, offers other ways of vetting a professional to help with this important aspect of life.
“Your estate planning attorney’s credentials are essential to insuring that your will, trust, power of attorney and advance medical directive will work as you expect them to in your state of residence as well as in any other state where you own real estate. Therefore, it is important to find out if the prospective estate-planning attorney is licensed to practice law in your state and in any other state where you own real estate. In fact, if you do own real estate in different states, then chances are you will need to consult with an estate planning attorney in each state since the laws governing wills, trusts, powers of attorney, advance health care directives and real estate vary greatly from state to state.”
One further way of checking the bona fides or a potential attorney to take over estate planning, Garber advises, is to ask to speak to other clients.
“It still surprises me how few prospective clients ask to speak with satisfied clients,” she writes. “Nothing speaks louder than the words of a satisfied client, so ask your list of prospective estate planning attorneys to provide you with at least two satisfied clients you can contact. While of course the attorney is only going to give you the names of happy clients, this will certainly put the attorney on the spot to treat you in the same way that he or she treated the happy clients.”

Tax Law Revisions Allow Couples To Say ‘I Love You’ In Estates

Time was, one from Column A and one from Column B and a couple’s estate planning was pretty much a done deal.
Times change.
According to a recent article on the investment website Morningstar.com, changes in tax laws may have rendered an estate planning approach made famous by actor Humphrey Bogart obsolete.

“For decades, lawyers routinely recommended A/B estate plans for married couples,” according to the story by attorney and award-winning journalist Deborah L. Jacobs .
“Many clients dutifully followed their advice, even though these plans can be convoluted. However, A/B plans that were put in place years ago could have negative tax consequences. If you haven’t reviewed your estate plan recently, it might be time.
“A key component of the A/B plan is dividing an estate into two major parts, a classic technique used by Hollywood icon Humphrey Bogart. In his will, signed eight months before he died in 1957, Bogart left all of his personal possessions to his wife, Lauren Bacall, outright. Bogart provided that after gifts to two of his servants were dispensed, half of the rest of his estate would go into a trust to benefit Bacall (Part A). Taxes would come out of the other half of the estate. Whatever remained after taxes were paid would go into a separate trust (Part B) for the couple’s two children, who were young at the time. This is called a bypass, or credit-shelter, trust. Because the funds did not belong to Bacall, they would be sheltered from tax on her estate. Such arrangements were designed to preserve the first spouse’s estate tax exemption, which would be lost if it wasn’t used when that person died.”
However, Jacobs goes on to say that changes in tax law that took effect in 2013 “make another alternative more appealing for couples that are in stable first marriages and trust each other to manage their joint wealth.”
“These couples can leave all their assets to each other directly in ‘I love you’ wills,” the article continues. “Then, the survivor can carry over the spouse’s exemption, a process tax geeks have dubbed ‘portability.’ At 2015 rates, this system enables married couples to transfer $5.43 million apiece, $10.86 million together, tax-free. Just as under the old law, you can leave a citizen spouse or a charity an unlimited amount, without worrying about tax.”
“Many A/B plans are less attractive today than they once were because the federal estate tax exemption is now so large that the credit-shelter trust is not likely to save heirs any estate tax and is potentially going to cost them income tax,” Walter R. Morris, a lawyer with Wyatt Tarrant and Combs in Lexington, Ky., was quoted as saying.

End Of Life Control Possible With Some Advance Preparation

No one wants to contemplate his or her incapacity or even death, but everyone should.

“Who speaks for you if you are not able to speak for yourself?” begins a recent article on PBS “News Hour” story . “Who determines what kind of care you want at the end of life, how your finances are handled, how your estate will be distributed? You do, but only if you’ve prepared ahead of time. “
The documents are fairly straightforward, yet many people postpone taking action to complete them. It isn’t easy to think about your own incapacity or death. But these important legal and health care decisions not only protect your own interests, they protect your family and loved ones by clarifying the kinds of care you would like to receive if you are seriously ill.”
Among the documents cited in the story is an Advanced Health Care Directive. Also called Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care or Health Care Proxy, the directive “saves your family from having to make very difficult decisions about your care in times of grief or crisis,” the story points out.
“Often used to decide about the use of feeding tubes, ventilators, pain management, organ donation and other issues when someone is unconscious or at the end of life. Each state has slightly different versions of the form, but a form from one state will be honored in another state.
“Hospitals and most doctors’ offices will provide you with the form upon request.”
Also mentioned are, naturally, a last will and testament as well as possible living trusts.
Having compiled these important papers, a person has one other important thing to do, the PBS piece states: let others know where they are.
“Have a central place for wills, trusts, powers of attorney, etc., or a document describing where they are so family members will know where to find these items. Include information about your Social Security number, safe deposit box, birth certificate, life insurance, contact information for attorney, and other important details.”

Divorce Should Trigger Automatic Estate Update

Divorce is often the most major disruption people will experience in their lives.

It need not also disrupt things after their deaths.
“If you have just gotten divorced, you may be focused on getting on with your life,” notes a recent story in The Wall Street Journal by Liz Moyer. “But make sure you also have updated the financial arrangements that kick in at your death. Failure to do so, or to alert all relevant parties to the changes, could result in certain assets and benefits unintentionally going to your former spouse or his or her family upon your death.”
The story focuses on a specific example, that of a court case in New York involving a woman who died in 2009, two years after divorcing her husband.
“The family of Robyn Lewis, who died five years ago at the age of 43, is battling her former in-laws, who stand to inherit a $200,000 home in Clayton, N.Y., even though she and her husband divorced in 2007,” according to the story.
Robyn Lewis executed a will in 1996 in which she left everything to her then-husband with his father named as second beneficiary.
“While under New York law the divorce automatically cut her ex-husband out of her will, it didn’t cut out her father-in-law, who presented a copy of the 1996 will to the court,” Moyer writes. “Ms. Lewis, according to her family, wrote a new will after her divorce that changed the beneficiaries, but family members were unable to locate it to offer it as evidence.”
“The lesson is to stay on top of your estate plans,” Elizabeth Devillers Moeller, a lawyer at D.J. and J.A. Cirando in Syracuse, N.Y., the firm representing the Lewis family, was quoted as saying. “That means drafting a new will—and making sure that appropriate people have copies of the document or know where to find it.”
“The key is to make sure your estate planning documents, not only your will but also your power of attorney and health-care proxy, clearly reflect your intentions,” stated Julian Modesti, a lawyer at Syracuse firm Menter, Rudin and Trivelpiece who is representing Ms. Lewis’s former in-laws.