Estate planning is important for determining the distribution of assets after death. However, property distribution after death can become a contentious issue that creates deep schisms in the family and can lead lengthy litigation. Fortunately, proper planning can avoid these issues.
Take the case the hypothetical of Jim and Ann. Jim and Ann spent most of their lives married to one another. They had three children who are now adults.
Eventually, Jim and Ann got a divorce and lived separately. As Jim became older, he required around-the-clock care by an experienced nurse. As time passed, Jim and the nurse grew closer, with Jim eventually asking the nurse to marry him. Only a few months after the marriage, Jim passed away from a long illness. To his family’s surprise, Jim’s attorney revealed that Jim had revoked his old will and had intended to execute a new one; however, he passed away before doing so. Jim’s estate planning attorney also revealed that Jim left an estate worth $4 million.
Under these circumstances, Illinois inheritance laws dictate that half of the property would go to Jim’s spouse (despite them only having been married for a few months) and the other $2 million to his three children. It is easy to see why such a distribution scheme would invite legal challenges.
Jim’s children would likely challenge the distribution through a collateral attack on the marriage. They would argue that the judge should declare the marriage as invalid because Jim lacked the capacity to consent to the marriage due to his old age and deteriorating health. They could also argue that the nurse used her position as Jim’s caretaker to gain his confidence and manipulate him into marrying her.
Independently of the outcome in Jim’s case, estate planning can avoid many of these issues. An experienced Illinois estate-planning attorney would have surely recommended that Jim execute a prenuptial agreement prior to his second marriage and a new will contemporaneously with revoking his old one.