Over the years practicing as an estate planning and probate lawyer, I’ve heard some really bizarre stories about people making strange requests in their Will.
For example, there was a 37 year old Beverly Hills socialite named Sandra West who left most of her $3 million fortune to her brother; her wish to be buried reclining in her baby-blue Ferrari and dressed in her favorite lace nightgown was granted after her death in 1977.
Another unusual one is McNair Ilgrenfritz, a wealthy music lover and composer. He left $125,000 to be claimed by a major opera house if it would stage one of his operas; the New York Metropolitan Opera declined the request though it described his Phedre and Le Passant as competent.
The best one, however, may be Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson, who left his birthday to a friend who complained about being born on Christmas Day; he asked that Annie H. Ide treat his birthday (November 13) with “moderation and humanity… the said birthday not being so young as it once was.”
Strange as these requests were, the important thing to note is that they were all fulfilled, which is what estate planning is really all about: making sure your wishes are known.
Last Will and Testament
A will allows you to achieve many objectives. You can state how your property should be divided, provide for your loved ones and favorite charity, determine who will receive your heirlooms, set up trust funds, and nominate a guardian for your minor children. The use of a will can save expense during the distribution of your property after your death. Distributing your assets to your family as soon as possible after your death will help them to avoid financial difficulties and emotional stress. When you create your will, you’ll be able to designate:
- The persons or organizations that will receive your property after your death.
- The distribution of your property after your death.
- The person or organization who will carry out the terms of the will.
- Who will have the responsibility for the minor children if the other parent is unable to serve as the natural guardian.
If you don’t write a will before your death, the distribution of your estate will be decided by state law or by the courts.
Even better, use a revocable living trust to achieve the same objectives but avoid the time and expense of the probate court process after your death.
Durable Powers of Attorney for Property/Financial Matters and for Health Care
If you’re incapable of making financial or health-related decisions on your own, powers of attorney allow you to select a person you trust to make them on your behalf. You should provide this person with as much instruction as you can and inform your agent you’ve granted them this responsibility. It’s a big responsibility and knowing your wishes will make the process much easier. It also avoids the expense of conservatorship proceedings in probate court, which are usually necessary when someone’s incapacitated and they have no powers of attorney. In California, the power of attorney for property is a separate document from the power of attorney for health care, and “durable” means the documents are valid even after the signer loses capacity.
Advance Health Care Directive (Living Will)
Sometimes called an advance directive, a living will is a document that states your wishes in certain health-related scenarios. Whereas a power of attorney lets you give another person decision making power over your care and assets if you’re incapacitated, a living will lets you spell out exactly what you want done in specific cases. Often, this involves what might happen if you’re in a coma or cannot be resuscitated. In California, this document can be part of your power of attorney for health care.
How Can I Help?
If you have questions about wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trust, special needs trusts, probate litigation or trust administration, send me an email or call (888) 503-7615. I’m happy to help, and your first consultation is free.