No probate case is ever the same as any other. But, many common stories and themes make their way to the probate courts. Whether they practice in uncontested probate matters or go toe-to-toe with each other in heated estate litigation, lawyers and judges in this area of law see an awful lot of the same cases again and again. One of the more common cases that we see at Burdette & Rice is a failure to coordinate at the planning level.
One day, probably years ago, Mom and Dad sat down with an estate planner before they carefully reviewed their Wills and executed them, observing all of the formalities and solemnities deserving of the moment. In their Wills, they specifically omitted their youngest – a prodigal son that left the family to find fame and fortune out west. Then, after several years, the last of the pair died, survived by their three hard-working sons that stayed close to home and the one that wrote Mom and Dad off years ago.
The oldest son, knowing that his surviving parent had a sizable insurance policy, filled out the forms to file a claim. Then came the shock. The insurance company wrote back and asked for the addresses of all four sons, including the “no good” little brother. Turns out nobody ever thought to change the beneficiary designation form on the life insurance policy. The oldest brother’s pleas to the insurance company fell on deaf ears, as the company calmly explained that their designation form – not a Will – governs the disposition of the insurance proceeds.
It may not be the oldest story in the book, and cautionary tales are easy to write when you’re trying to be cautionary. But, probate litigators encounter this type of problem all the time. Too often we see lawsuits costing thousands of dollars generated by a single missed step – a box checked or unchecked. Coordinating and aligning probate and non-probate assets is one of the easiest ways to avoid disputes and litigation in estates. Match the plan in your Will with the plan in your insurance policies, your IRAs, your POD accounts and all the rest. If you’re taking the time to plan, do it right.