Problems With Drafting Your Own Will

February 16, 2012

A Will, a Trust, Powers of Attorney, Advance Health Care Directives, HIPAA Authorizations, Personal Property Assignments and any thing else attendant to your estate plan are legal documents. We don't advocate drafting your own estate planning documents, but if you do, make sure your intent is clear. The smallest mistake can completely disrupt your plans, goals and desires with respect to your estate assets.

For example, a man, Duke, who passed away in 2007 had handwritten (holographic) his own Will in 1984 which purportedly provided that his $5 million estate was to be distributed to his wife and then 1/2 to the City of Hope and the remaining 1/2 to the Jewish National Fund. The Will disinherited anyone not mentioned in the document. Duke had two surviving heirs, his nephews, Robert and Seymour Radin who were estranged from Duke.

The language in the Will specifically provided that if Duke and his wife died "at the same moment", then the estate was to be equally divided to the above named charities. Duke's wife died in 2002.

Duke's Will was admitted to probate and the Radins filed a Petition for Determination of Entitlement to Estate Distributions. Their argument was that the charities would only receive the inheritance if Duke and his wife died "at the same moment" as stated in the Will. Further, there wasn't a provision in the Will that provided for disposition of Duke's estate after his death.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff found for the Radins by ruling that the Will was not ambiguous in that Duke and his wife did not die at the same moment, nor did Duke's Will offer any disposition of his property if he survived his wife. The result was that Duke's estate was to be distributed as if there were no Will at all, through the laws of intestate succession, specifically, to his 2 surviving heirs.

The charities appealed but the Court of Appeal affirmed and ruled in favor of Radins.

You can read more about this case in an article by Sherrie M. Okamoto in the Metropolitan News.