It’s important to have a will because this document specifies how money and property will be distributed after death. Without a will, the person is declared “intestate” and money and property are distributed under the laws of intestacy in the state in which the person resided.
Terms of a will must be extremely clear.
Unless the language in a will or a trust clearly expresses the intentions of the person signing the will, disputes can make the tragedy of a person’s death even worse. While this may sound obvious, disputes happen more frequently than you might think.
Will Disputes: Not Funny
Consider the case of Robin Williams, who tragically committed suicide at the age of 63. Sadly, eight months later, his second wife and his three children embroiled themselves in a legal battle over what he meant in his will and multiple trusts.
The incredibly talented comedian and actor left items such as movie memorabilia, awards, costumes, jewelry, and a large sum of money to his three children Zelda, Zak, and Cody Williams.
Wife of three years, Susan, received the home the couple had lived in as well as a large sum of money to cover expenses. Items acquired during the marriage went to Susan.
Dissatisfied with the sum of money left to her and the lack of other belongings such as his clothes and jewelry, Susan objected. She claimed his watch collection is not “jewelry” and should not go to the children as such, as referenced in one of the trusts. Susan also claimed that the sum of upkeep for the property should have included extra money for home renovations and furnishings, which she expects to receive from part of the children’s share of money.
The children object since Susan receives a lavish home, and, after Robin’s passing she suddenly spent $30,000 in home renovations.
Susan prevented the adult children from entering the home, afraid they’ll remove belongings under dispute. She claimed the day after Mr. Williams’ passing numerous paintings disappeared when the children collected things they assumed were left for them. The children dispute that, explaining that they’ve been shut out of that house since Mr. Williams’ death and they’ve not been able to collect items left for them.
Attorneys for both sides asked for extra time to review the will and trusts and mediation was scheduled. While this prolongs the disagreement even longer, it is hoped that at mediation the dispute will be finally resolved at that time.
Will: Make it Clear
Wills may include what are called specific bequests, which identify defined items and designate the selected beneficiary. Your great grandmother’s diamond ring can be designated to niece Mary. A stamp collection can be left to son Larry. Once I prepared a will in which we included photographs of antiques, each designated to a particular person.
Read over your will or trust and be certain it clearly spell out your wishes. Work with your attorney to make sure it will transfer property in an orderly fashion. I’ve heard people tell me “Oh, they won’t fight over things.” I’ve also watched as people fight over property. Make the documents precise and clear, giving no room for squabble.
Your will is one of the basic estate planning documents, which we’ve described in another article.