Selecting an Estate Planning Attorney Wisely
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
When former NFL quarterback, Steve McNair, died without a Will, his family members were left to fight over his expansive estate. Immediately after his death, although news reports indicated the NFL-star had provided instructions to his family and that his wife wasn’t trying to exclude his mother from inheriting, things quickly deteriorated.
Two years later, on the anniversary of McNair’s death, his mother was sued by his widow, Mechelle, over property taken from a 45-acre ranch in Mississippi. His mother said the ranch had been a no-strings attached gift from her son, but she was evicted from the ranch by Mechelle’s lawyers and asked to return $54,363 to McNair’s estate after she reportedly took items she had purchased from the home upon leaving.
To avoid similar problems, many celebrities create a Will. A Will alone, however, is no guarantee that things will go smoother after death. The case of child-star Gary Coleman shows what can happen when estate planning is not done professionally.
Coleman signed a Will in 2005 naming his friend and the former head of his corporation as the executor and beneficiary of his estate. However, after getting married in 2007, he signed a handwritten amendment to the Will leaving his assets to his wife. The couple divorced in 2008 but continued to live together. When Coleman died in 2010, his ex-wife claimed she should inherit all of his assets. The dispute, like so many others that arise when a Will is unclear, ended up in court as Coleman’s ex-wife and his friend battled over his home, his pension, and the intellectual rights to his works.
Coleman made the mistake of failing to update his Will properly. However, there are lots of other mistakes that can be made when it comes to estate planning. For example:
· A Will can be created without following legal requirements, including having the Will witnessed properly.
· A new Will can be created without destroying or revoking the old one, leaving beneficiaries confused about which document should control.
· A Will could be created that leaves property to a beneficiary despite the fact that the deceased doesn’t actually have the right to do that. For example, a property held in joint tenancy will pass automatically to a co-owner after death, despite what a Will may say.
· A Will could be created leaving assets to someone even though a beneficiary is designated elsewhere. For example, if you leave an IRA or a life insurance policy to someone in a Will, the Will won’t control. Instead, the money will be paid out to whomever was named as the beneficiary of the policy or account.
These are just a few examples of the many pitfalls that can occur when you try to handle estate planning without advanced knowledge of the law. Don’t make this mistake – get help from a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney. Your beneficiaries will be grateful that you planned and spared them disputes and heartache that may occur after you are gone.