A Do-It-Yourselfer Costs Beneficiaries Money and Heartache

Here’s another story about a person who tried to create an estate plan without an attorney’s help, and ended up causing huge problems for his beneficiaries.

A California man wrote his own will, in which he divvied up his real estate among two friends. He also stated that he wanted 50% of his “money” to go to one friend, and 50% to the other. Under state law, anything that wasn’t specifically provided for in the will would go to his cousins.

When he died, the man had, in addition to cash, various bank accounts and certificates of deposit, a money market fund, a Fidelity mutual fund, some U.S. treasury bills, and some U.S. savings bonds.

The friends and the cousins then began to argue over what “money” meant. Did it include the savings bonds, the mutual fund, etc.? Were these items “money”?

A court case ensued, which eventually went all the way to the California Court of Appeals, with both sides spending a lot of time, money and effort to untangle the will.

A few months ago, the court decided that the man had intended to leave all the various financial instruments to his friends, not his cousins. But had the man simply gone to a lawyer, who would have known to draft the will more carefully, he could have saved his friends years of anxiety and court costs.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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