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Estate Planning Horror Stories

Mistakes and ambiguous language in estate plans can result in catastrophe.  From delays, expenses, confusion and other pitfalls to probate, family members and other loved ones will suffer the unintended consequences of poorly drafted estate plans.  In some cases, these issues can cause actual estate planning horror stories. Money often brings out the ugly side of people and even ugly people. Interlopers will go after every mistake to get their hands on any asset.  Make no mistake, these people are out there looking to take advantage of the elderly; especially the elderly who live alone.

We understand how simple estate planning mistakes or omissions can quickly turn into disaster, resulting in litigation or probate. We aim to help our clients avoid common estate planning errors, thus protecting their assets and effecting the efficient transfer of assets to the intended beneficiaries.

Troubling Estate Plans — Both Now And In The Past

There are both historical and modern-day examples of horror stories that resulted from mistakes in estate planning. The following are a sampling:

  • George Washington — Since he had no children, he left his estate to his four nieces and nephews. Unfortunately, the estate plan he left in 1799 was very confusing. The estate (which valued the equivalent of $20-40 million today) was not closed until 1849: 50 years after his death.  The only reason it ever closed was the death of the heirs.
  • Abraham Lincoln — Even though he was a lawyer, he did not have a will or trust in place at the time of his assassination. This put his wife in a terrible position and resulted in litigation by his family members and others for his assets.
  • The Wrigley Family – The Wrigley family had massive wealth, owning a baseball team, a stadium and a gum company interest. By not using a simple A/B trust plan, the family lost half of its assets due to taxes.
  • William Seymour Hoffman – Mr. Hoffman loved the same woman for 30 years, but he didn’t “believe” in marriage.  He needed strong counsel to tell him this lack of understanding in our tax laws was an error.  This cost his sweetheart $30 million.
  • Michael Jackson — Despite having a cadre of lawyers, his estate plan was riddled with flaws. He had an estate plan, but no one working on that plan put any of his property into the Trust!  His assets were not in trust.
  • Robin Williams — He left an estate plan, but it did not include a contest provision, which would have stated anyone who contested the will would risk his or her entire inheritance. The result is an estate hung up in litigation due to lawsuits.

As the United States population ages, other horror stories related to estate planning have come from financial abuse or elder abuse. Often, through undue influence or errors in estate plans, older adults find themselves in compromising financial positions at the hands of unscrupulous beneficiaries and caregivers.

Safeguarding Your Estate

Attorney Richard A. Lewis will thoroughly examine your situation from every angle to help you avoid mistakes and errors, minor and catastrophic. Call our firm at 916-446-4141.


Call 916-446-4141



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