Single Mother of Three Passes Away From Cancer; Will Not Properly Prepared

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A single mother of three, who succumbed to cancer made headlines for the most incredible reason. The news story states that when she was first made aware of her condition, she immediately started to make Will preparations using a popular online legal document creation site. Utilizing all of the tools offered by the site and answering the questions to the best of her ability, she was able to come up with a “legal Will” that was in compliance with all standards, including the witnessing formalities as per the requirements of the laws of the state of Florida where she lived. The details stated that her brother would be the estate’s personal representative. However, her efforts to prepare a legal Will were not accompanied by crucial legal counsel, thus the outcome has only managed to create further problems for her family.

Reports say that the woman left behind three minor children of ages 7-11 years, all of whom would be equal beneficiaries of her whole estate along with the life insurance policy that she had in her name. A divorce she had gone through a while back left her not only as a single mother but also left her children and their biological father estranged. The main issue causing problems for this family is the fact that her minor children do not have the legal right to either own, or be in charge of the inheritance left to them in their mother’s Will; a fact that the now deceased single mother did not have a clear understanding of at the time she drafted her Will.

The language that the young woman used in the Will has caused immediate action to be taken, i.e. her entire wealth, property, money, including her life insurance benefits, will be controlled by the probate court, to be distributed accordingly. Additionally, the children’s assets will be thoroughly monitored by a guardianship, at the expense to the estate, supervised solely by the probate court. As a result of this action being taken, the family will face additional expenses as well as a delay in the distribution of the children’s rightful insurance benefits. However, on reaching the age of 18 years, it has been confirmed that the money and property will be released for the children, regardless of whether they will have had matured enough to handle their new-found wealth. If the young woman had sought counsel in the initial stage of drafting her Will, she most certainly would have been advised to include provisions to ensure the children’s finances were dealt with in a way that would help them utilize their inheritance responsibly.

Given that the money left behind by the single mother was equal amongst the three of her children, no extra amount beyond the set amount will be allowed to be offered for other purposes such as educational or medical expenses that may arise for one particular child. Had this mother sought legal counsel, this issue could have been addressed and the mother could have made appropriate arrangements for the care of her children should such a situation arise. As it is, the children have no provision for such emergencies and the burden falls on those who now care for them.

This brings about another common mistake those who use online legal document creation sites make; lack of appointment of legal guardians for children. In the case we are speaking of, the mother’s  initial reasoning was that  appointing her brother as her estate’s personal representative was enough to get things going, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case. This could lead to a possible dispute between the late mother’s family and the children’s estranged father. Unfortunately often times after someone passes people tend to come out of the woodwork to see if they are or could be entitled to any assets. As we’ve stated before, proper procedure and documentation with legal counsel will almost always be less costly than a dispute after the fact, particularly when the signer is no longer alive to clarify their intent.

All of this, the probate process delay and proper and precise expensive guardianship, would have been avoided if legal counsel had been incorporated in the process of creating the Will. Furthermore, all the funds and assets would have been handled and kept as a whole, until such an age when all the children would have grown up and offered their equivalent sum to avoid misuse of the property at such a young age.

We highly encourage prospective clients to seek appropriate legal counsel when drafting Wills and trusts. It is vital that clients be made aware of the laws in their respective states, as well as specific issues that should be addressed in order to create a thorough and comprehensive Will that allows for as many possible circumstances that may arise. Legal document creation websites may seem easy and much less expensive than speaking with a lawyer but buyer beware; you truly do get what you pay for. In this mother’s case, her family dealt with a lot of heartache that could have easily been prevented.

 

The Godbe Law Group provides professional representation and personal service in all matters of estate planning, probate, trust administration, estate and trust litigation, and estate and fiduciary tax matters. Our goal is to build genuine relationships with our clients and to help them succeed in reaching solutions that best fit their particular needs.