Case Study: The Domino Effect of Multiple Missing Estate Plans in One Family

Case Studies

When multiple people in the same family die without Wills or valid estate plans, it can trigger a complex and stressful domino effect. This can lead to a tangled web of inheritances, where each successive death complicates the legal landscape while multiplying uncertainties. Untangling the web can be a lengthy, costly and emotionally taxing process for the surviving family members — often leading to Will disputes and contests and exacerbating any already underlying conflicts.

The Brooks* family provides us with an unfortunate example of what happens when multiple people die without some critical estate planning documents in place.

Timothy Rice Estate and Elder Law Firm became involved after Jane Brooks, who was 80 years old and didn’t have any children, died without a Will. In New Jersey, when someone dies without a Will, the state’s Law of Intestate generally take over and the estate is overseen by the Surrogate Court. In this situation, Jane’s older sister and niece contacted us because they wanted to be named co-administrators of Jane’s estate. It took a lot of paperwork and much time, but we were able to get their appointment from the Surrogate Court, as well as a waiver for the surety bond insurance policy on the estate that is usually required before an administrator is appointed.

Not long after Jane’s death, as her sister and niece were going through Jane’s home, they discovered paperwork and a key for a safe deposit box. The box was in Jane’s husband’s name only. John Brooks predeceased Jane and it was unclear if even Jane knew about the box or its contents. To gain access to the safe deposit box, which may include critical estate planning documents, Jane’s sister must return to the Surrogate Court and petition to be named administrator or executor of John’s estate, too.

Meanwhile, Jane’s sister also discovered that their mother, who died a while back, owned shares of a stock that was still paying dividends. While the mother had a Will in place when she died, and Jane served as executor her mother’s estate, it seems Jane overlooked or didn’t know about this stock because it was not properly documented in their mother’s estate plan. Once again, the sister must ask the court to be substituted as executor of their mom’s estate so she can ensure the funds from the stock are handled appropriately.

These multiple trips to the Surrogate Court, stacks of paperwork and prolonged process could have been avoided with some careful and accurate estate planning by multiple members of the Brooks family.

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

The experienced estate planning attorneys at Timothy Rice Estate and Elder Law Firm often help families like the Brooks, but it’s less costly and more efficient to avoid these types of confusing entanglements by estate planning. Wherever your family is in the estate planning process, contact us to help. Contact us today.

administrator, Estate Planning, executor, Surrogate Court, Will

Related Posts

Recent Posts