When it comes to writing a will, things can get messy. Although, at the time of a relative’s death, the focus really should be on morning the loss of a loved one and NOT on who gets what. The following stories from lawyers, as well as, family members showcase just how ridiculous things can get when family members are caught off guard regarding certain things that are listed on a deceased relative’s will.
Source list available at the end.
A man buys a house, raises children, and then separates from his wife. During the separation, he writes a will stipulating that the children will receive everything.
Ten years later, he remarries. They live happily together for twenty years until he passes away.
Turns out, he never made a new will in those thirty years. The only asset in his estate is the marital home (held in his name only). The children become greedy and force the now-elderly new wife out of the marital home so that they can sell it and realize their share. The new wife, who probably went to extreme lengths to keep the deceased in his home during his old age, is now kicked out of the house that she has called home for twenty years.
There is a type of court application that the new wife can make to stop this from happening. In my jurisdiction, it’s called a “Family Provision Application.” The only problem is, it will likely cost tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, therefore, doing it is likely to necessitate the sale of the house anyway.
I haven’t had to break this news yet, but I’m anticipating some pretty tough conversations that will have to take place down the road once my clients actually die. These clients have amassed significant wealth ($20 million+). They’ve working like dogs their entire lives to build a successful business. Their children have been involved in the family business, but like many children of successful parents they aren’t quite as hardworking as my clients are/take a lot for granted, etc. They’ve lived beyond their means for years and have made it very clear that they’re not worried about the future because they’ll just get “mom and dad’s money” someday.
Problem is, my clients have become increasingly fed up with their adult children and have decided to skip them entirely and leave everything in trust to their grandchildren (whom they adore and seem to have turned out great despite their obnoxious parents). From what I understand, the client’s children have been living beyond their means for years and have saved very little because they’re expecting to inherit millions.
It’s going to be a harsh reality when they learn that after the last of their parents die, they’re getting nothing. I’m sure there will be litigation over the estate, so I’ve already gone above and beyond documenting my clients wishes to demonstrate that they knew EXACTLY what they were doing. Sometimes, families are quite messed up.
My client had been married several times. There were five grown children who called him dad. The son of the first wife was a spitting image of the father- independent, hardworking, entrepreneurial, and looked like a younger doppelgnger of the old man. The two sons of the second wife were solid citizens. They co-owned a garage and worked there. The son of the third wife was also a decent guy, but not quite as accomplished as his older brothers. He worked for someone else, but he was still steady and reliable. Every evening after work, he would visit his dad in the hospital. The youngest son, by the last wife, was a different story. He was in and out of jail for petty offenses, had no steady job, and enjoyed alcohol and drugs. During his father’s last illness, he regularly had parties at the old man’s house while he was in the hospital and trashed the place.
The client called me to the hospital to write his will. He called me himself. He knew that he was terminal, but nobody got anything over on this guy. He was completely cognizant of absolutely everything until the very end.
He left token amounts to the older sons and the bulk of his modest, but comfortable estate to the youngest. The youngest son, of course, was positively gleeful to learn he was getting what he thought was going to be a lot of money, but at the same time, he was confused as to why his dad would leave things that way since he was actually closer to the older sons. The older sons, who were always responsible and respectful towards their father, were hurt and confused, especially since they knew how angry their dad had been in the past at the youngest. They asked me what they could do to make the division of things more fair.
Initially, I recommended they make a ‘Family Settlement’ that could be presented to the probate court for approval. The instructions their dad gave me and to the cousin he had named administrator were: “… that if any of the older sons challenged his will, paternity tests were to be done on them.” He didn’t believe that any of the sons, except for the youngest were actually his. I would lay money on the oldest being his just because they looked so much alike. The other three, though, I don’t think they had a prayer. The youngest was not subject to the paternity test.
The whole family was devastated at the paternity test condition. The two sons who owned the garage sat in my conference room and cried. They had no idea. The eldest was angry but didn’t hesitate. He knew that, no matter what his father’s suspicions were, he was actually his natural son. The fourth son was rocked. He had a heart attack that night but survived. The youngest was stunned, too. It never dawned on him that his older brothers might not actually be his brothers.
I was very grateful when they decided to enter into a ‘Family Settlement’ and divide the estate more equitably.
Picasso’s Estate is probably one of the best examples. Pablo Picasso died without a will, and his family situation was extremely complicated. This led to a very long, expensive, and complicated fight. However, that was exactly what Picasso wanted to happen. There’s a good summary here. Picasso once said words to that effect: “The passing of a great man like the passing of a great ship should leave a broad wake.” He figured since his descendants were going to spend their lives getting rich off of his work anyway, they should at least have to fight each other for it. Oh boy, did he ever get his wish, it basically went on to destroy his remaining family.
Many times, it’s not so much that the deceased are being intentionally spiteful, but rather it’s that the remaining family have unreasonable expectations as to what they may receive in terms of the estate, or what may even be left for them to divide amongst themselves.
A great example of this, I once knew a family with a wealthy grandfather who acquired quite the large nest egg from his successful business, which he sold in his later years for a good sum of money. It was something in the ballpark of 5 million dollars.
However, the grandpa ended up picking up several health complications over the years, but he continued to live well into his 80s. Finally, finding himself in a very upscale assisted living residence in his final years of life.
Needless to say, the day of his passing came and went. The surviving family members quickly went to the law firm that managed his estate. However, they were all shocked to find out that what had once been a 5 million dollar nest egg had been drained by an assortment of medical bills, medications, assisted residence rent, and general end of life care to a shadow of its former self. It was in the range of just a couple hundred thousand dollars now.
Needless to say, none of them became the overnight millionaires they thought they were going to be when grandpa passed.
When my father wrote up his living trust, I was fourteen. My mother was his fourth marriage, and I was his fourth child. His three other children were never really in the picture. When they did come around, they would always ask for money. One had been in and out of jail for a range of petty crimes (and one serious one, which was for attempted murder).
My father did not raise these children because their mother hid them from him for years, but she made sure the state of CA garnished his wages for child support. When my father passed from cancer, his living trust stated his assets were all given to my mother and I.
Each of his three older children were left with $1.00 each. His trust attorney informed him that he had to leave them with a small amount (which he acknowledged them). The smallest amount was $1.00, and if they contested it, they wouldn’t even get the $1.00.
Fun fact: They all contested it, and none of them got the $1.00.
I’m currently going through this right now. Little known rich relative left money to her cousins (one of whom is my grandfather). Unfortunately, most of her cousins have also died. Now, there’s a huge debate on whether the wording of the will means that the money will only go to those who are alive or to those who are alive and the descendants of those who are died.
If it includes us, we would get about $100,000. She was a very rich lady and neither my dad, any of his siblings, or myself have ever even met her/known who she was.
My grandfather had built a house and raised two children in it (my mother and her sister). His first wife died of cancer, so he remarried. Unfortunately, his new wife was manipulative witch. Meanwhile, my grandpa built a company that did quite well. The new wife made my grandpa drunk one night. He already had problems with alcohol in the past yet the wife would do/tell him things that she knew would make him want to drink again. Then in his half drunken state, she managed to make him write a will leaving everything to her and her children from the last marriage. When my grandpa died, his actual children got absolutely nothing. We only learned of his death like three hours after, and it was only from my grandaunt. She also sent us the funeral invitations. It was pretty sad.
Nine years ago, my mom passed away from cancer. In 1993 (a year before I was born, and they were happily married), the will stipulated that my dad got everything.
Fast forward to nine years ago, my grandma went to visit my mom in the hospital. My mom told her that the night before, when she was out of it, my dad had gotten her to sign something, but she didn’t know what it was.
We know this was a document to revert back to the old will. My mom would have never denied writing a new will. She was extremely smart, loved her kids, and told my grandma that she was going to divorce him if she survived. She passed away, and my dad got everything (260,000 to be precise) kicked his own three kids out, moved a new woman in with her two kids, and is raising them as his own.
My mom got screwed over. Her mother died and her father remarried a much younger woman with children. His new wife was around the same age as my mom (who was in her mid 20’s) when her dad remarried. My grandpa changed his will so that his second wife and step children would get the majority of his estate, including most of his first wife’s priceless family jewelry and left his own daughters with next to nothing.
At one point in time, my grandmother, who grew up during the depression and was a self-made woman who fought tooth and nail for every dollar she owned, said something on her death bed that directly contradicted her will. She said this in the presence of her husband (my step grandfather) and all my aunts alongside my mother. Her husband then promptly being responsible legally for the distribution of wealth and gave nothing to my family. Eventually, after much fighting, the money was put where it needed to be. No one talks to my grandmother’s widowed husband anymore because of this (despite his change of heart). He immediately acted bitter towards my whole family. For half a decade, this has split two sides of my family apart.
Fighting over my grandmother’s will led to my mom and uncle not speaking for about twenty years.
The backstory. My mom has three siblings, a sister and two brothers. My grandparents bought the family house in the late 1950’s. My grandfather died in the early 70’s. After that my grandmother made a will. It stated that: “… When she died, each child would get 25% of the house.” Somehow, she either messed up or wasn’t thinking right and put the house into an irrevocable trust.
My uncle, we’ll call him Michael, was pretty much led around on a leash by his wife. Always the type to visit his mom the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the Monday after Christmas, you know that kind of stuff. Late 70’s roll around, my grandmother develops macular degeneration. Within a short amount of time, she becomes legally blind. My mom being the youngest and unmarried moves home to help take care of her. Eventually, she marries my dad, and I’m born in’86. We all live in my grandmother’s house and help take care of her. Michael doesn’t visit/call much.
Around 1990, my grandmother changes her will/trust to give my mother the house outright, and the other two siblings are completely on board with this. Mid 90’s roll along, my grandmother breaks her hip and goes into the hospital. She’s in rehab for about a month, and Michael visits her once (maybe twice). Her heart starts giving out, and she eventually dies in 1995.
Everyone is at the wake. Michael is there, literally at the wake, asking the siblings when the will is going to be read. Like he’s frothing at the mouth. My mom has some words with him, but she tries to keep it under wraps a bit since they are at the wake. Will time comes around, and the issue with the trust is discovered. The other two siblings are like, “Whatever… Momma Linderman was the primary caregiver, so she can have the house.” Michael throws a fit, hires a lawyer, and tries to sue us. It takes about two years before the other two siblings are able to convince him to drop it. My mother tells Michael that he’s dead to her, and they haven’t spoken since.
When my dad died in 2010, she specifically asked the family not to tell Michael even though he lived really far away at that point. Somehow, he found out and sent a card. My mom marked it as ‘return to sender’ and that was that. Last she’s heard, he’s in Florida going blind. His kids live all over the country, so he doesn’t have much support. Can’t say I care.
Posts are edited for clarity.