Diatribe: Last Will And Testament – If It’s Not On Paper, It Didn’t Happen.
I don’t have much but I’m very grateful for what I do have and it’s important to me that, when I’m gone, there is no question about how I want things handled and that my wishes be respected. So upon my death, like most Americans, I will be leaving a Last Will and Testament which will apply to the dispositions of both my real and personal property. In this legal document, signed in front of witnesses so that there is no question of its validity, I have spelled out exactly how I expect my survivors to transfer my estate and dispose of my remains. I have done this so that they won’t have to make difficult decisions during a time of grief. It’s pretty straight forward and self explanatory.
Many people don’t prepare these documents and their loved ones are left to make decisions on their behalf after they’re gone. Others leave instructions that are unclear or unusual. Recently, reclusive copper heiress Huguette M. Clark died at the age of 104 with no surviving heirs. Her will indicated that her fortune would pass to various charities, her accountant, her lawyer, her doctor and her long-time personal nurse who received a $30 million dollar fortune. While the latter two individuals should consider donating their inheritance to charity for ethical reasons, I think it’s important that Ms. Clark’s wishes be respected and honored. Unfortunately, because she left none of her sizeable fortune to any of her distant relatives, they are challenging the validity of her will.
Anna Nicole Smith died in 2007 in the midst of court proceedings challenging the will of her late husband, Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall. Her late husband did not include her in his will during their brief marriage before his death. Consequently she, and then her estate, battled with the Marshall family for many years and, just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Marshall family.
In a continuing effort to encourage them to document all interactions with our clients, I tell the people in my office all the time “If it’s not on paper, it didn’t happen”. Clearly this is never more true than in the case of a Last Will and Testament.