Disinheriting Children From an Estate Plan

Last week, ‘Pawn Stars’ Patriarchal star, Richard “Old Man” Harrison passed away at age 77. News of his passing hit the media fast and unearthed an interesting issue in the family. As is understood by most, the passing of a loved one is a very emotional process. Having to grieve and process the loss of said loved one while simultaneously executing their will or administering their trust can be an extremely difficult process. Adding family drama into the mix though can really boil the pot.

Originally in the “Old Man’s” will, his wife JoAnne and their three children, Joseph, Rick and Christopher, were named the beneficiaries of the will. In 2017, Richard removed Christopher from the will entirely for reasons unknown to the public but are said to be a private matter which was discussed amongst their immediate family.  In Illinois, no-contest clauses in wills provide that if any person contests the will, that person may be excluded from the deceased’s estate and inherit nothing.  These clauses are typically added to avoid probate fights and to honor the wishes of the deceased.  If there are grounds of fraud, duress or the like, however, the no-contest provision may not be upheld.

Do you think Christopher will accept the terms as written, or will he contest the terms and if so, on what grounds?  Perhaps he could argue that his father was not mentally competent at the time of signing being as though he passed away just one year later.  Perhaps he could argue that an outside source standing to gain from Christopher’s disinheritance influenced his father’s decision.  Regardless, an already grieving family may have more grief ahead.

Uniform Power of Attorney Act

As of June 29, 2018, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the amendments to the Uniform Power of Attorney Act. The changes made to the act allow for it to align with the provisions of Illinois Law.  It is crucial to designate a Power of Attorney agent for both healthcare and for property, as there are many unfortunate and unexpected occurrences such as death, illness and divorce.  Planning ahead for these circumstances allows your loved ones to feel more at ease during an already extremely emotional time.  It also allows your loved ones to understand your wishes as it relates to such things as organ donation, burial versus cremation, and the like, rather than being forced to wonder what it is you would have wanted.  Making those decisions for yourself now not only puts you in control of those decisions, but shows your loved ones that you were thinking of them by getting your documents in order rather than leaving the burden on them.

Witnesses and wills, how many is too many?

Each state has its own laws or requirements when preparing, filing, and notarizing documents such as trusts or wills.  Illinois requires two witnesses for wills.  Some states only require one witness while others may require three.  It is good practice to have two or more witnesses sign for any wills or trusts executed in Illinois.  This helps insure the validity of these documents in the event the parties move, or the laws change.  Having an ample amount of witnesses provides attorneys and their clients with security in knowing that their estate, and thus their assets, does not get tied up in probate court because of the inconsistencies of document requirements when they cross state lines or involve multiple jurisdictions.

This begs the question, should all states and jurisdictions abide by the same rule of law to avoid these issues?

The Importance of Power of Attorney

Executing a Power of Attorney can be tricky when dealing with issues that come up unexpectedly such as sickness or injury.  If the party is unable or incompetent to make the decision to activate the duties of a Power of Attorney, what options does that person have?  Chances are, that person and his or her family will end up in the court system, and a judge will decide who is the best person to make those decisions.  Often that third person is a stranger to the individual and his or her family.  Additionally, the family itself will have to pay for the court proceedings along with the fees of the third-party guardian.  This speaks to the importance of choosing a Power of Attorney now, while you are healthy and competent to execute your own wishes, rather than waiting until it is too late.