Sadly, as an estate attorney I often see families where a person is in their final days before death and the squabbling has already begun. Often these are families where no one expected there to be bickering over the dying person’s estate–and yet it happens all too often. The fact is, sometimes money changes people.This underscores the importance of thorough estate planning.
Here’s a typical scenario where a person is near death and the “buzzards” are already circling. Grandma is in the hospital with a terminal illness. No one expects she’ll be around for very long. Grandma’s son believes that he is entitled to Grandma’s jewelry and removes it from Grandma’s house. Daughter is not aware of this at the time but become aware of it after Grandma dies. Daughter insists on the jewelry being returned because Grandma told her she would receive it. Son (or more likely his spouse) insists that Grandma intended him to receive the jewelry.
Grandma had a Last Will & Testament that included a provision that tangible personal property, such as jewelry, would be distributed according to a “separate writing” which Grandma was supposed to leave. Unfortunately, Grandma’s lawyer forgot to tell her to fill out the separate writing. As a result, there is no list of who is supposed to receive the jewelry. Both children claim Grandma said it was for them but none of that is in writing. As a result, a feud is brewing and likely to result in an all out family blow-up.
Unfortunately, this one matter which was overlooked by Grandma will ultimately cause problems that could have been avoided. This is true particularly when the beneficiaries are acting selfishly and in their own interest–buzzards picking the bones of their loved ones.
Effective estate planning will not always avoid a fight–especially when family are acting like buzzards–but not planning will almost certainly result in or allow a fight.