When the average person is faced with a major health care decision, a common reaction is to say, “I want a second opinion.” With all due respect to the medical profession, nobody knows everything, and getting a fresh perspective on an important issue can produce an entirely different strategy. However, that often is not the case when it comes to having an attorney write your last will and testament.
Sadly, many individuals have trusted their estate planning to someone who may not have been adequately prepared or sufficiently thorough to handle their clients’ wishes as thoroughly as possible. The result often is a painful and costly battle in probate court. When that happens to an extremely wealthy client or a celebrity, it becomes big news – especially when the circumstances are exceptionally strange. Those high-profile cases can provide a lesson for everyone else.
For example, when the famous New York real-estate billionaire Leona Helmsley died in 2007, her will stated that she wanted $12 million to go to her dog, while specifically stipulating that nothing would be left to her two grandchildren. Ms. Helmsley probably had a good attorney, but nonetheless, her grandson and granddaughter challenged the will and were eventually awarded $6 million.
Dr. Martin Luther King, the iconic civil rights leader, designated one of his sons as the executor of his estate. But when his will was revealed, King’s other children contested it, accusing their brother of misrepresenting their father’s finances. There was even a dispute over whom should inherit King’s Nobel Peace Prize medal.
One of the most bizarre legal challenges to an estate was the case of the legendary baseball player, Ted Williams. Supposedly, the Hall of Famer’s original will clearly said he wanted to be cremated, but two of his children claimed Williams actually wished to be cryogenically frozen. Williams’ other daughter and his personal nurse disagreed, leading to a long, expensive court battle. They eventually had to give up the fight, and now the great ballplayer finally rests in peace. Williams’ lifeless body and head are frozen in two separate chambers.
Find an attorney who knows how to handle the details
Obviously, most Americans’ estates do not include billions of dollars, a Nobel Prize, or a frozen head, but we all have many valuable possessions and assets that are important to us.
According to the Self Storage Association, the United States now has over 50,000 storage facilities, comprising the fastest-growing segment of the commercial real estate market. Approximately one out of every ten Americans rents or owns offsite storage units. Those statistics reinforce a report from the U.S. Department of Energy which noted that 25 percent of the two-car garages in America do not have enough room in them to fit a single vehicle.
Chances are, much of that material is destined for the trash or recycling, but a vast percentage of it must be worth saving and passing on to our loved ones. Even if items have little monetary worth, they may have immeasurable sentimental value. Naturally, we want our relatives, friends, or charities to rightfully inherit our assets and the things we cherish—preferably without a court battle or hard feelings.
A comprehensive estate plan can designate, item by item, which family members or other recipients will inherit your property. But however you prefer to distribute the assets, you need to make your decisions known in advance, and legally documented. That is why the choice of an attorney is so critical. You need to make sure the right people eventually receive what you want them to have, according to your exact wishes.
Choose an experienced estate planning firm
By competently designating which of your possessions will be passed to your loved ones —ideally with their knowledge and cooperation beforehand—you will minimize the risks of a probate fight or lawsuits.
The experienced elder law attorneys at Cordell Planning Partners provide affordable smart solutions for comprehensive estate plans, wills, trusts, Power of Attorney documents, and other safeguards for your assets.
Cordell Planning Partners also offers free educational workshops, where we explain various asset protection programs, all in terms that are easy to understand.
To learn more, contact us today or call 866-335-3375. You also can arrange to have a free one-hour estate plan analysis to discuss your individual planning priorities.