Case Study: Is Handwritten Critique on Estate Plan a Legal Update?

Shortly after her husband died, one of Tamara’s* adult children took her to an attorney to create an estate plan. Months later, Tamara carefully reviewed copies of her Will and power of attorney documents for the first time.

“This is nuts,” she wrote on the first page of the estate plan. “Stupid,” she penciled in on the financial power of attorney document, along with various cross outs and other notations of “wrong” throughout the packet.

Tamara told us she was still mourning her husband’s death and feeling grief when she went to the original attorney. She doesn’t remember much about the attorney or the visit, and she didn’t know where the original documents were. But, in looking over the copies, she knew she disagreed with the decisions her estate plan reflected, including unequal inheritances among her adult children and who was designated her financial power of attorney and executor.

Unfortunately, people sometimes get taken advantage of in their moment of grief or, for whatever reason, they fail to carefully read legal documents before they sign them. Luckily, Tamara emerged from her funk and decided to review her estate plan before it was too late.

Correcting an Estate Plan Gone Wrong

Would Tamara’s handwritten notes on the estate plan copies sufficed as a legal estate plan update had she died before visiting us or another estate planning attorney? New Jersey probate law says that just about any time a testator (person making the Will) makes handwritten notes on the original Will, it serves as revocation of that Will. However, Tamara made her disagreements known on copies of the estate plan, so it’s a good thing she recognized the need to work with an estate planning attorney to update the Will and power of attorney documents.

In addition, any update to an estate plan or redrafting of the documents must include a statement that the testator revokes all prior Wills and codicils. Without that language, families may be left confused and can use that confusion as the basis for a costly and protracted legal battle challenging the Will.

Ultimately, we helped Tamara create a new estate plan that equally leaves her assets to her children, which was her intention, and replaces her executor and power of attorney.

*Names and facts have been changed to protect the client’s privacy.

Timothy Rice Estate and Elder Law Firm helps families create estate plans that address the potential for future health care needs, including qualifying for Medicaid benefits. Contact us today.

Estate plan update, undue influence, unequal inheritance

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