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How Betty’s Estate Plan Destroyed Her Family

If I have a will does it mean my wishes will be carried out and my property will distributed exactly according to my instructions?  Not necessarily.  That’s because not all property is probate property, automatically passed by way of a will.  And when things don’t work out the way everyone expected them to, it leads to anger, hurt feelings and the break up of families.  Take the case of Betty.

 Betty had two children from a first marriage.  Her first husband died when her children were young.  She married for a second time to Bob.  Bob and Betty were married for 20 years and, by all accounts, Bob’s relationship with Betty’s children was great.  Betty had gone to great lengths to set out a plan of distributing assets among her children and Bob and making that plan known to all.  A large part of her assets were held in one investment account which was worth $500,000.  She told her attorney who drafted her will that she wished to leave 50% of the account to her two children and the other 50% to Bob.

 Betty’s attorney prepared her will exactly according to her instructions with a paragraph identifying the investment account and how it was to be distributed.  But, the attorney cautioned Betty that the account needed to remain in her name alone.  He told her not to put another owner on the account and not to name beneficiaries upon her death.  That’s because doing either would override the will.

 Well, you can imagine what happened.  Betty died several years later.  She didn’t change her will but when her children sat down with Bob they got the shock of their life when they learned that the account was no longer just in Betty’s name.  It was now a joint account with right of survivorship.  That means Bob is entitled to 100% of the account and Betty’s kids get nothing, unless Bob decides to honor Betty’s wishes.

 Of course, that’s if it still was Betty’s wish to split the account 50/50.  Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t..  Only Betty could say for sure and, of course, she could no longer say.  The children suspected that Bob had Betty change the account, although Bob swears that wasn’t the case, that he doesn’t even recall when she made the change.  Imagine how uncomfortable the family situation is now.  The children are talking about filing suit and Bob doesn’t know what to do.

 Just another example of how poor planning can really destroy family harmony and cause a whole lot of pain.