Contradicting wills could lead to lengthy court battle

In a previous post we discussed charitable giving as one way to avoid conflict among friends and family over an estate plan. This is just one idea among many options to make gifts in an estate plan a gift and not a source of strife. The key to any successful estate plan is being complete and making sure there are no contradictions.

A lesson on this issue comes to us from a copper mining heiress whose two conflicting wills have set off a court battle over her substantial estate.

The problem is that the heiress, Huguette Clark, properly executed two different wills within six months, both completed at the age of 98. One leaves here entire estate to distant relatives, the same people who would each recieve a portion of the fortune if there was no will or if both wills are declared invalid. Ms. Clark apparently had never met many of them and did not list all of the potenital heirs by name.

The second will is more specific and leaves her fortune to a long time caretaker as well as establishing a charity. There is also an art collection and a valuable doll collection involved.

The problem is that the second will did not properly revoke the first will, so technically it should be invalid. However, if Ms. Clark was not in an appropriately coherent mental state at the time she executed the first will, that one may not be valid. As you may imagine, these issues are very difficult to determine after someone has already passed away.

Now, each of the parties who stands to gain from either version of the will is battling it out in court, which means that signficant portions of the estate will go to lawyers fees and court costs.

The lesson from this is very simple – be clear about your itentions and complete in your paperwork.

Source:The New York Times, “How to Avoid an Estate Battle After You Die,” Paul Sullivan, June 14, 2013