Problems with Deathbed Planning

End-of-life preparations are not easy, even when an experienced estate planning attorney is involved. Things become even more complicated when one makes said preparations later in life. In these cases, the probability of disputes from the beneficiaries increases because of the suspicion that elderly people are prone to undue influence.

 Thus, litigation may follow whenever a person makes drastic changes to their will shortly before dying, especially when they disinherit family members for the benefit of non-family members.

Even high-worth individuals may encounter difficulties with their estate plans. Take the case of the copper mining heiress Hugguette Clark, who left behind an estate worth nearly $300 million.

Ms. Clark died at the ripe old age of 104.

She spent the last two decades of her life in a hospital, where she was cared for at $400,000 per year. In 2005, she executed a new will that disinherited most of her distant relatives, and gave significant sums to people involved in her everyday care, including her lawyer, doctors, hospital, goddaughter and her nurse (who received several millions dollars).

However, another will that was in existence only six weeks prior to the new will had left her distant relatives nearly $30 million. Needless to say, the sudden and significant change would cause even the most trusting of minds to be suspicious.

The relatives, who were disinherited in the second will, filed suit to void the second will. They argued that the non-family beneficiaries took advantage of their close position with Ms. Clark to exert undue influence on the elderly person. The beneficiaries of the new will, on the other hand, argued that Ms. Clark seldom spoke to her distant relatives and that her decision to execute the new will reflected her appreciation for the care and dedication that her caregivers had shown toward her.

The dispute ended in a tentative deal that included the distant relatives in the distribution scheme and excluded her lawyer and nurse (the doctor relinquished his portion of the inheritance).

An experienced Illinois estate planning attorney can assist clients with addressing these types of issues. If you have questions regarding your estate plan, or the will or trust of a recently departed family member, contact an attorney today.

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