On May 28, 2010, former child star Gary Coleman passed away in Provo, Utah two days after suffering a fall in his home. The actor left a modest estate with a will executed in 2005 that named his long-time friend and former business associate, Anna Gray, as his executor and sole beneficiary. What should have been a routine probate process quickly turned into a prolonged case after the actor’s ex-wife presented an amendment to Coleman’s will that was handwritten in 2007. While eventually the judge ruled that since the couple was divorced when Coleman passed away, his former wife could not inherit, the case showed how even a casually written codicil could impact probate.
Making changes to your will could lead to the probate court asking additional questions or needing to review more documentation. Both of these actions require the court spend more time making sure your estate is in order before your beneficiaries inherit. One way to make things easier for your heirs is to always date any changes made within your will so that the court can verify that the changes occurred after the will was created. Also, keep copies of changes to your will in the same place that your will is stored so that the documents are presented at the same time.
Dealing with Missing Property
There are times when a change to a will is made in order to give a specific gift to a specific person. While your intentions are noble, if something happens to that property prior to your passing, your executor end up dealing with a bequest that no longer exists. If you make an amendment to your will giving someone close to you an antique coin collection, be prepared to incorporate language that explains how you would like your executor to proceed if you no longer own the collection at the time of your death.
Even if you are sure to make plans for any property being sold or lost before your passing and carefully document all of your changes, it is possible that multiple codicils could lead to someone contesting your will. Another family member or a friend who doubts that you intended to leave a certain piece of property or asset as outlined in your amendment may contest the entire document. At that point the validity of your estate plan is reviewed as the individual contesting it proves that you were unduly influenced or that the amendments are not valid. If multiple people are contesting your will or appealing court decisions, it is possible for probate to last for years before a final resolution is reached.
Preventing Future Problems
Updating a will is something that should be done every few years, but without the help of a skilled attorney, you run the risk of invalidating your entire will. Instead of attempting to amend your will on your own, contact an estate lawyer who can help you protect yourself and your heirs. MMZ Law is prepared to go over your existing will with you or help you create a new estate plan. Contact our office in Claremont, 909-256-6702 to schedule your FREE 30-minute consultation and we can begin providing you with the legal advice you deserve.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY:
MMZ LAW, A PROFESSIONAL CORPORATION
341 W. 1st St. Suite 100
Claremont, CA 91711
MARIVEL M. ZIALCITA is the founder of MMZ LAW, A Professional Corporation, where she practices in the areas of Elder Law – Medi-Cal Planning Asset Protection, Trust & Estate, Special Needs, Conservatorship, Trust Administration, & Probate. Ms. Zialcita is a frequent speaker on trust and estate matters and holds memberships in the State Bar of California, Trust and Estate Section, The San Bernardino County Bar Association, Wealth Counsel and Elder Counsel. She currently assists in the pro bono legal services program at the James L. Brulte Senior Center in Rancho Cucamonga, California. She is based in Claremont but assists clients throughout Southern California.
This information is educational information only and not legal advice.