By David E. Inabinett, Attorney
There’s nothing like the prospect of death to make someone’s wishes about their legacy – and the handling of their estate – come into focus. Certainly, there can be will changes that, if executed properly, can save taxes, expenses and time in sorting things out or going to a more difficult estate administration process. However, if not handled carefully, such last minute will changes can open the door for legal challenges that can last for years, particularly if those death-bed changes make significant alterations to the person’s previous plan or appear out-of-character for them.
It is best that one’s estate plan is carefully considered, executed through proper documents and beneficiary designation structure, and updated periodically rather than all at once upon a sudden illness or crisis. It is also best not to act in haste to write someone out of your will without significant thought and consideration being devoted to that change. Despite this common sense advice, most find it difficult to make a decision until faced with the reality of death or at least the real threat of it.
While not as common, some act swiftly and emotionally to make all-too-quick alterations due to a misstep of a child or other beneficiary of their estate. Too often, this comes at a time when the person is experiencing some element of diminished capacity, either due to age or illness. Caution should be taken to ensure that the person does possess the capacity to make changes to their will or other legal documents, and that such changes are not due to the exercise of undue or excessive influence upon the person by a family member who stands to benefit. Sometimes it is advisable to consult with the person’s physician to determine their competency to make decisions about their personal or financial affairs. If time is of the essence, all of these otherwise prudent steps may be difficult or impossible to undertake.
So, underlying message: better to try and accept the reality that it is better to plan in advance, taking time every few years to review one’s planning documents, to avoid the ill-fated, hasty death-bed changes which expose the family to potential turmoil and risk a mistake on the part of the professionals hurrying to make important changes.
About the Author
David E. Inabinett is an Attorney and the Managing Member at Brinkley Walser, PLLC, in Lexington and Greensboro, NC. Inabinett was recently selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America® 2014 in the fields of Elder Law, and Trusts and Estates (Copyright 2013 by Woodward/White, Inc., of Aiken, SC). Inabinett is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA™) and focuses his practice on Estate Planning, Elder Law, Education/School Law, Business Law, and Real Estate Law. He can be reached at (336) 249-2101 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brinkley Walser prides itself on providing new and cutting edge legal counsel built on a foundation of knowledge and integrity more than 125 years in the making. The firm has offices at 10 LSB Plaza in Lexington and in the First Citizens Building, 620 Green Valley Road, Suite 306, in Greensboro. Visit Brinkley Walser on the web at www.brinkleywalserstoner.com.