Monday, November 24, 2008

Do It Yourself Projects Should Not Include Will Preparation

Although it may be an infrequent occurrence, some parents intentionally disinherit their children. Today’s Columbus Dispatch included a Cleveland Plain Dealer article by James F. McCarty that provided a good example. The story, Son Who Tried to Kill Parents to Get $500,000,[1] relates why Walter and Mildred Sowell decided to leave Martin, their only child, just $50 of their $500,000 collective estates. It seems that Martin, at age 17, tried to kill his parents by lacing their tea with cyanide. When Mr. Sowell spit out the tea, Martin opened fire on his parents with a .38-caliber pistol, shooting his mother three times in the back. Mr. Sowell was lucky enough that the three shots intended for him missed. All things considered, when the Sowells signed their wills two years later, the $50 bequest to Martin was generous.

Mrs. Sowell died in 2007. Mr. Sowell died in July 2008. The Sowells had reciprocal wills that left everything (other than the $50 to Martin) to the other. Their wills did not name a contingent beneficiary in the event that there was no surviving spouse. The result of not having an effective dispositive provision in the will means that the estate will pass to the closest next of kin, in this case Martin. The Chief Magistrate of the Cuyahoga County Probate Court was quoted as saying, “[i]t’s a mess, a classic example of what happens when you don’t update your will.” It is also an example of what happens when people try to prepare their own wills. Had the Sowells seen an attorney to prepare their wills, they almost certainly would have included a provision to avoid this from happening.

As an aside, the news article also recounted that, although Martin did not attend the funeral of either parent, he appeared in the Probate Court two days after his father death, seeking to be appointed fiduciary of his father’s estate.

[1] The Columbus Dispatch, November 24, 2008, Page B3.


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