Estate planning can be complicated, and a process that is best done with the support and guidance of legal counsel. To underscore the fact that wills are not to be regarded as DIY projects, New York residents can look at a case in another state in which a woman had only a handwritten will when she died. The document stated that 65% of her estate must go to her life partner and the balance to an aunt.
However, the aunt was already deceased at the time of the woman’s passing, and the will had no instructions for what must be done with the remaining 35%. The surviving life partner petitioned for the entire estate when the will was in probate, but the testator’s half-brother filed a separate petition, claiming that intestacy laws made him the legal heir of the 35%. Although the probate court agreed with the latter request, the court of appeals did not, and the probate court’s judgment was reversed.
Reportedly, the appeals court ruled that the woman’s life partner who was the primary beneficiary should inherit the entire estate. However, before this could be done, the heirs of the deceased aunt filed petitions claiming the 35%, and once again, the judge ordered the case to be returned to the lower court. The outcome of this case is not known.
All these problems could have been prevented had the woman entrusted an experienced attorney with her estate planning. New York residents who want to avoid the time-consuming back and forth between courts may benefit from discussing their wills and other estate issues with legal counsel. A lawyer can not only help draft the will but also assist with keeping it current by making modifications as life’s changes occur.