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Estate Planning Case Studies

It is imperative to have a will to ensure that your assets are distributed in the manner you desire when you die. A will sets forth who you wish to handle your affairs upon your death, will instruct them to pay your debts, make specific bequests and how to distribute your real and personal property. If you fail to execute a will, Ohio has a state statute that sets forth how your assets will be distributed. This may or may not be in accordance with your wishes. Additionally, if you have no will naming an executor to handle your affairs, the court may appoint someone that you would not have chosen. It is imperative that if once you prepare a will that you periodically review and possibly update the will when your life circumstances change, to make certain that the persons named as executor and successor executor are still appropriate and that the beneficiary designations correct.

The following are some representative examples:

  • Husband and wife each prepare a will in 2005 leaving their estates to each other and then to their surviving children in equal shares. Their son dies in 2010 leaving two surviving children. Husband dies in 2011 and pursuant to his will, his estate passes to his wife. The wife dies in 2012. She has never updated her will. Her estate passes among only her surviving children, which does not include the son who died in 2010. The deceased son's share lapses because he did not survive his parents. This could have been prevented by adding language to her will that provided for any deceased child's share to pass to their surviving children. It also could have been prevented had she updated her will when her son died.
  • Woman prepares a will and names her sister as executor. She has other siblings but is not close to them and does not want them to handle her affairs. The woman fails to name a successor executor in case her sister is unable or unwilling to serve. The woman dies and her sister is ill and cannot serve as executor. Since she failed to name a successor executor, one of her other sibling applies and is appointed executor.
  • Man dies with no will but with significant assets. He has no spouse but has children, but they do not get along with each other. Several of the children apply to serve as administrator of his estate. Since there are competing applications and discord among the family, the court appoints an independent third-party attorney to serve as administrator of the estate.
  • Woman prepares her will in 2010. A few years later, she decides to make changes to the will and names a different executor and different beneficiaries by crossing out the portions of the will she wishes to delete and writing in the changes. The will is determined to be invalid since the changes were not properly signed and witnessed.
  • Man prepares a handwritten will on notebook paper and signs and dates the document. However, he fails to sign the document before two competent unrelated witnesses as required by Ohio law. The will is determined to be invalid.
  • Single man with no children has cancer but refuses to prepare a will as he does not want his relatives to get his estate. He thinks that the state of Ohio will take his estate. Since there is no will, the Ohio statute determines how his estate is distributed. Under that statute, the state of Ohio would be the beneficiary of his estate only if there are no relatives who would otherwise inherit. The single man has several cousins to whom he was not close. Since he had no will, by operation of law and contrary to his wishes, his estate passed to these individuals.

At a minimum, everyone should have a simple will setting forth who should handle your affairs after your death and how your estate should be distributed. If your assets are complex, a more specific will may be in order or even a trust. Failing to address these matters during your lifetime may cause conflict over who should be handling your affairs and cause your assets to be distributed to those you did not intend. An attorney can more fully advise you about the circumstances of your particular situation.