Everyone should have the right to make alterations to their own will, but this seemingly simple request becomes more complicated as you age.
An excellent article by Charles Ticker from The Sibling Fight tells the story of Eva Rova Barnes, a 95-year-old women living in Bremerton, Washington, who is the perfect example of the difficulties that can arise.
The Case of the Caregiver
Ms. Barnes made late-life changes to her will before her passing in 2011. This included leaving her substantial estate assets to her recent caregiver, Michelle Velarde, instead of her family.
On the surface, this request seemed credible enough:
Ms. Velarde had been a close and consistent caregiver up until Ms. Barnes passing.
The will changes had been made with Ms. Barnes’ attorney.
Ms. Barnes had signed an additional document explaining her reasons for removing her family members from her will.
Despite these precautions, Ms. Barnes’ family successfully disputed the will changes in court and had the inheritance returned.
The Dangers of Late-Life Will Changes
Why didn’t Ms. Barnes’ late-life will changes hold up in court?
Litigation revealed critical details that led to believe that Ms. Velarde was taking advantage of the situation, among other reasons.
This common scenario of late-life will changes teaches us to watch for four different dangers:
- If you change your will so that the distribution of your assets is dramatically altered, expect any disinherited beneficiaries to challenge the will.
- If a caregiver or new person substantially benefits from the new will changes, expect that his or her actions be will scrutinized by the Court and other beneficiaries.
- All of the details of your relationship with beneficiaries will be subject to scrutiny in litigation.
- Despite your diligence with your arrangements, a Court may still find that the will changes were the result of undue influence.
Consider these dangers before you make the decision to make late-life will changes, and keep in mind that communication and preparation are the keys to avoiding disputes.
For more information on will preparation and the responsibilities of a beneficiary, please visit ERAssure.com.