My brother took it all…it was legal, but not what my dad wanted!

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Testament and pen

If you want to avoid fighting in the family after you die, the clearer you make your intentions known, the better.  I worked with a family in which two of the kids had sued the brother over the inheritance.  After their mother died, the dad wrote his will and used the language that the three kids would each take a third, “share and share alike.”  The brother that lived in Phoenix was listed as the personal representative for the estate in his will. The problem was that the brother also was listed as the pay on death beneficiary for all of the bank accounts and certificates of deposits (CDs).  When the dad died, the in-state brother took ALL the money from those accounts, as the beneficiary, and blithely said, “Well, Dad loved me best.”   One Court did not agree, and felt that, more than likely, the dad wanted his in-state son to hold that money in constructive trust and disperse it according to the terms of the will.  Many of the relatives and friends who knew him felt the same.  However, legally, his one son had the right to that money absent another sibling contesting it in court.  A court battle ensued.  Two kids sued their brother and each side racked up legal fees, all against the estate.  Because of the fighting, the nieces and nephews did not get to see their aunts and uncles and the family was ripped apart.

Bankers don’t really explain the law to you very well when they ask if you want to designate a “pay on death” (POD) beneficiary.   If they had, the result might have been different.  Don’t rely on a bank to make your wishes clear.  Had the dad clearly told his children when they were all together, that they were each to get one-third, that would have solved the problem too.  Had dad video- taped or tape recorded the family discussion, the estate could have been saved tens of thousands of dollars and the family likely would have stayed close to each other.  Had the dad’s intention been memorialized in a legal document, all of this expense and heartache could have been avoided too.  What a shame!

I would love to hear your stories too.