Few people value their property more than they value their family, yet they fail to plan for
family peace. These Utahns likely shed tears in heaven when they realized their poor planning
turned their children against each other. (Names have been changed.);
1. Vince accumulated bank accounts large enough to support himself for several years,and he wrote a will leaving everything to his two children equally. Later, Vince heard he could avoid probate by adding his children to his bank accounts. He added his wealthy son, Jim, to his bank accounts but not his daughter, Sally, because she lived in another state. Two days after Vince died, Jim legally withdrew all the money. When Sally tried to claim her half under the will, Jim refused to give her anything. Sally’s lawyer advised her that it would be very expensive to prove her dad’s intent in putting Jim on the account. Sally gave up and refused to speak to Jim for the rest of her life.
Lesson. If you want to leave a legacy of peace, don’t put anyone on a joint account unless you want them to have the entire account.
2. Kathrine had many precious family possessions including family heirlooms, ancestral treasures and family history collections. A couple of years before she died, Kathrine began promising specific items to her children and grandchildren.
When the family gathered at Kathrine’s house after her funeral, they discovered that Kathrine had promised the same gifts to more than descendant. Quiet arguments soon turned into resentments, then into accusations of greed and lies. Several descendants no longer speak to each other.
Lesson. You can avoid contention in your family by leaving a written list of your desires as part of your will or trust. It’s better to have them mad at you than at each other.
3. Don died with a very successful business. Fortunately he left a will. Unfortunately he wrote the will himself with such confusing terms that no one could tell what he wanted to do with the business. Don’s sons hired lawyers to claim the business in the probate court. Don’s daughters tried to fight the lawsuit, but they soon ran out of money and gave up. The boys got the business and the girls will never speak to them again. The fight may continue for another generation or longer.
Lesson. Preserve your legacy of family peace by getting expert help with your will.
4. Rex and Barbara lovingly raised more than ten children on their large family farm. When they both died without a will, their children had to file a probate case in court to transfer the land. All agreed to divide the inheritance equally, but angry court fights began over whether to sell the land or to keep the family homestead together. Legal fees devastated the estate and contention may become their family legacy.
Lesson. Love your children enough to plan for their peace after you are gone. Leave a will or trust.
by Jack C. Helgesen
(Note: we do not disclose the identities, stories and confidences of our clients. While stories in this blog may describe real events and real people, we alter names and facts to protect the true identities of the people involved.)
Published May 1, 2009