At Death What You Think Someone Else Wants is Irrelevant

At Death What You Think Someone Else Wants is Irrelevant

Absent fraud, duress, undue influence or a few other rare reasons whether you agree with a decedent’s estate plan is Irrelevant.  It is amazing how often I have to explain to someone that just because your pain in the ass relative left all her money to her cats doesn’t mean you should complain about it in a court of law, or in the more likely case, just because your relative locked everything up in trusts doesn’t mean you can just go and break those trusts.

I was reading a semi-sad / semi-funny article on CNN yesterday titled, “I Lost my Inheritance to the Doomsday Prophet!” by Blake Ellis.  In it the author tries to make the reader feel bad that an elderly woman who, without dispute, loved Family Radio and thus left nearly $300,000 to the non-profit.  If you don’t follow the news all that closely Family Radio is the group who claimed that the world was going to end 2 weeks ago.  The article is obviously trying to make you feel bad for the surviving family, some excerpts (Heuwetter is the Executrix trying to close the Estate):

While other family members insisted it was crazy to let her aunt give all that money to a radio station, Heuwetter didn’t initially contest the conditions of the will. She knew little about the Christian radio station, but knew her aunt, Doris Schmitt, found comfort in it.

It wasn’t until recently that Heuwetter learned who was really getting her aunt’s bequest. She said she first realized this was the same group when she saw buses driving around New York City the weekend before the supposed end of the world, spreading the doomsday message.

“I’m looking at these brand new buses drive around with Family Radio’s name on them, saying ‘Doomsday is May 21′, and I said, ‘Oh my god, this is who my aunt gave all of her money to,” Heuwetter said. “I didn’t know he was so crazy, and at this point I was incensed that this man was going to get everything my aunt had left.”

While Heuwetter says she didn’t necessarily need the extra cash, other family members were struggling and could have used a little help, she said.

Even worse, Heuwetter said, was that Camping’s prediction never came to fruition. Heuwetter’s family members were just as angry when they learned about Family Radio’s failed prophecy, so they brought the case to several lawyers, who sympathized with the family, but agreed they had no case.

Schmitt had lived a tough life, struggling with alcoholism and losing her two children to drug addictions before dying alone at 78 on May 2, 2010 in her small home in Queens, New York.

The estate is within weeks of closing, and Heuwetter knows it’s a lost cause.

“It’s just so frustrating because I know there’s nothing I can do about it — this man is going to get hundreds of thousands of dollars from my aunt,” she said. “And she wasn’t a rich woman.”

However, reading the post all I could think was that the the surviving family is ridiculous, they all knew she loved this non-profit and are now going to sully her name because she decided to support this non-profit rather than her nieces. 

Not once in the article is there an allegation of dementia, undue influence or fraud, rather it is a bunch of pissed off family members who disagree with their aunt’s testamentary intent.

You Can’t Just Break a Trust Because You Think it is Unfair

Recently, someone called me up and explained that their parents left the wife of this couple a large sum of money, but it was locked in a trust that would only provide the couple money as long as the wife was alive and then it would provide the daughter/decedents’ grand daughter with an income stream; they wanted to know

  1. Am I familiar with this type of distribution schedule?
  2. how they can break the trust so they can get at the principal?

After explaining what I actually do with most of my day (i.e. create this exact set up so the children can’t destroy the legacy) I explained that this is what their Mom and Dad wanted and asked if they had a good reason to destroy it?  As in most of these cases their reasoning was about “fairness” a subjective term that their daughter may disagree with since her parents would be raiding her eventual inheritance from her Grandmother and Grandfather.

Obviously the conversation was longer than that one paragraph, but in the end it comes down to the simple fact that just because you don’t agree with someone’s testamentary distribution schedule doesn’t make it automatically incorrect.

21 Responses to At Death What You Think Someone Else Wants is Irrelevant

  1. Nice post and too true.
    It points nicely to the fact that you should talk to your desendants about what you plan to do with your estate. Help them understand so they won’t fight over it after you die.

    Of course this is not an easy task. Of course they may try to talk you into doing something else. In the end, though, your family will be better off.

    • Communication is HUGE, however, I have found that it rarely happens beyond the standard statement “don’t worry I have taken care of it”

  2. So true- we may not like it, but honestly, when you lose a loved one, shouldn’t the money be seen as a GIFT? Granted, I would be a bit irritated if one of my relatives left their money to a…”charity” or cause that I didn’t agree with, but it’s sad that it didn’t seem to occur to this family to ask why this woman gave the bulk of her money to a group and not her relatives? They recognize that this radio program gave her comfort and joy- and never once seemed to acknowledge that she needed this service for companionship or joy, or question if they could have reached out to her to provide her with that comfort she obviously sought?

    I know that when my father passes someday, that he’s left his money to me. The fact of the matter is, I don’t care how much or when I get it- he’ll be gone and you can’t put a dollar amount on that. Whether it’s $1 a month or a large sum coming in at once, I think the money won’t overcome the emotions I feel after the loss….it’s sad to think that this family seems so transparent in what they actually thought about their relative.

  3. I agree, but can understand the surviving family members’ feelings. There are distinctions between (a) money going to family but leaving some out, (b) money going to charity, and (c) money going to a scam.
    The classic case of Leona leaving a billion dollars to her dog was what had me first consider this.

  4. Great article. Perhaps this is a reminder to all familes to have stronger communication, which hopefully leads to a healthy relationship till death. For a sane person to leave their fortune to a radio station, it speaks volumes of what they felt about their family.

    • “For a sane person to leave their fortune to a radio station, it speaks volumes of what they felt about their family.”

      It was more than a radio station to her, it seemed like leaving her estate to her church which doesn’t seem as nutty

  5. Well, if her family was nicer to her when she was alive we probably wouldn’t have this story. They should have taken an interest in her before she died and she might have left some money to the family.

  6. When I read the title of this article, I thought you were gonna write about something else… such as what your boss wants, or what ppl who dun care about you wants doesn’t really matter when u’re lying in your deathbed from early cancer…

  7. We think alike! I was totally going to write a post on that story. Ridiculous. First off, why should these whiny nieces (note even direct descendants) think they’re entitled to a dime and proclaim they “lost it”. They never had it!

    People shouldn’t feel entitled to anything; can see how it would seem unfair if one child got more than the other, etc., but these weren’t even children.

    • Seriously! It was never theirs. It is like saying I lost all that income I didn’t make when I didn’t bet the right horse at the track…or didn’t get all that money when I didn’t have the foresight to check out google’s IPO

  8. It’s sad that the aunt found more comfort in a radio station than with her family. A will is called such because the person drafting it has the absolute will to do what he or she wants with it. It’s a will of the dead and it deserves to be respected. Questions of fairness and distribution is subjective but one thing is almost always certain. A will reflects the dead’s most cherished people, organization or community when he or she was still alive.

  9. Hi Evan, I totally agree. Many people are greedy and entitled. Just because you disagree, doesn’t mean you are right. Great title and article!

  10. I totally agree as well. The parents probably set it up this way as well because they had a hunch their child wouldn’t be savvy with it anyway!

    • Exactly! Now the child (well she is 50 at this point) must go to a Trust and ask for anything beyond the income produced by the assets.

  11. I really hate the sense of entitlement people have over other people’s money.

    Ditto of what the others said. If the poor lady got comfort from her family instead of her radio show, then maybe things would have ended differently.

    Unfortunately I’ve too many people who can’t wait for someone’s demise in order to get access to money. I’d much rather have my loved ones alive and earn my own money.

  12. While the doomsday prophet is a sad story. I think most of the time family members need to respect their loved ones wishes and just be thankful they are getting some form of financial help after their loved one is gone. Regardless of the crazy circumstances.

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