By Attorney Ted Brown
A question clients frequently ask is “do I have enough assets for a trust?” This question is usually followed by the statement “I just need a simple will.” The reality is that there is no dollar amount at which the need for a trust is triggered and there is no such thing as a “simple will.”
Take as an example, the estate of the legendary lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison. Morrison’s will bequeathed his entire estate to his girlfriend , Pamela Courson. In the event that she did not survive him, Morrison named his parents as contingent beneficiaries. Sounds simple enough. When Morrison died in 1971, his entire estate passed to Courson.
However, when she died a mere 3 years later, her entire estate, including everything she inherited from Morrison, passed to her parents. Morrison’s parents implored the legal system to remedy this obviously unjust result, but much to their dismay, the outcome fit perfectly within the letter of the law. His assets passed exactly as it was stated in his will; Courson survived him by more than 90 days and therefore everything was hers. What happened at her death was determined by her will, not Morrison’s.
Ironically, it was the very simplicity of Morrison’s will that led to years of complex litigation. When doing any sort of estate planning, it is very important to plan for even the most remote of contingencies. It is also a good idea to discuss this planning with a professional.
Not only can experienced Elder Law Attorney help prevent the type of unintended result that plagued Morrison’s estate, but they can also determine when a trust might be a beneficial option. In addition to avoiding the costs of probate, trusts can allow you to plan more precisely, to control your bequests even after the death of your secondary beneficiaries.
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