My husband was always proud that he had kept his Will updated and He made sure that I knew exactly what he wanted to happen with all the material things accrued through his success. But then he passed away... In over 40 years we never discussed money matters in any great detail. I knew we had some and that’s all he cared to share. But now, after 15 months and over $32K to my own personal estate attorney and well over $70K to his Administrator/estate attorney not to mention the more than $80K it has cost our corporation to evaluate and transfer ownership and the $53K it has cost two of our employees to legally accept the gift of ownership of our company, I had to wonder where he went wrong. And then I realized that the devil really is in the details. (And In my opinion you never hire a paranoid attorney.)
I was with him when we first selected an estate attorney for a friend suffering from Alzheimer’s. He liked our choice because she was very thorough. He decided to hire her to do his Will and handle his estate. He wanted to protect me and the other people he loved. He wanted to show his gratitude to two employees who ran our company so he gifted it to them. Clear as a bell! Very specific! Right?! Not even close. The Will was clear and legal but it seemed he kept the attorney in the dark as to his finances as well. Had he been more revealing she could have shown him the weakness in the Estate planning and Will. But he wasn’t so the Will could not be enforced. Because we were asset rich but cash poor there was not enough cash to fund the Trust he had so carefully created. I’d hate to think what would have happened to my life and all we had created had he not decided to sell One of our properties eight days before he passed away. In the 15 months since he passed in January, 2019, the court generously allowed me $18K from the estate as an allowance. The estate is not yet settled and no final accounting has been presented. I want you to know that you cannot simply say what you want in your Will. You must also create a plan to make sure your wishes can be fulfilled. Pay attention to the details. It’s the last thing you will do In this lifetime so you might as well do it right!
Caroline, I'm sorry for your loss. And for the subsequent chaos. It sounds like a frustrating (to say the least) situation to be in.
Thank for your sharing your experience so that others may gain wisdom before it is too late for them to change things. It seems to me that your experience is a cautionary tale on several fronts.
On the other hand, your experience, bad as it has been, will likely have a good outcome, dollar-wise. Unfortunately, I have read of so many situations where a DH took care of all the money, and then it turns out that when he dies he actually did "take care of all the money", leaving his widow destitute or close to it. He having taken a full pension without regard to a survivor benefit, and spending their assets "too large" so that the widow is left in straitened means. I know I have read this same tale a number of times at AARP alone, and certainly in other publications over many years.
It sounds as though a trust might have been beneficial for your and your husband's situation? I wonder what recommendations the attorney who worked with your husband would have had if she had been fully apprised of the estate.
It is sad to say, but in the end I think that each adult in a marriage needs to have some understanding of their joint finances and what occurs should...or once...one of them dies. I know that some people have entirely no interest in these topics, but in that case I think it's up to the other spouse (who hopefully then is attending to their knitting) to be even more careful to make things clear for their spouse, perhaps an "annual report" or something.
Your situation brings to light that there is a need for free cash flow in such a time. For my own DW, some years younger than me, I maintain a term life policy that should see her up until she can collect SS and eventually draw on inherited IRAs without penalty.
Yes, the days of one spouse handling everything are long gone. Minimally, you need everything to be in BOTH names (accounts, credit cards, etc, etc) to protect a surviving spouse and preferably a Living Trust for heirs after the death of the second spouse.