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
- Am I familiar with this type of distribution schedule?
- 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.