Do You Have Your Affairs in Order?

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Suzanne G. Beyer

By: Suzanne G. Beyer

I know, you’re young. The last thing on your mind is writing a will or thinking about putting your assets in a trust. After all, you’ve just started your business and really haven’t accumulated much personal wealth.

The thing is, when you die, what happens to everything you’ve worked so hard for? Yes, discussing your will, trust, powers of attorney and living will is downright depressing.

However, a good Trust & Estate planner should be at the top of your list, no matter your age, someone who will create a document that will give you peace of mind that the money you accumulate will go toward little Johnny’s education and not for his bar tab.

A good Estate Planning attorney will help you lay out your objectives in an easy-to-understand manner.  As your estate and family grow, you’ll revise the document to fit your ever-changing circumstances, like a major life-altering event … Children, divorce, health problems, retirement, winning the lottery (Good luck!) or receiving an inheritance!  Here’s an inheritance story that will convince you to act sooner than later.

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My Great Uncle Art Hadley, inventor of the expansion bracelet, the forerunner to today’s expansion watchband, accumulated $7 million. He divided this fortune between two trusts – a living trust and a testamentary trust. Art left his estate in these two trusts for the lifetime of his wife. After her death, the trusts would go to his two children, Sarah and Thomas. Art provided that at the deaths of his children, these two trusts would end and the assets would be distributed to the children of Sarah and Thomas.

Art, having signed both documents on the same day, didn’t notice any inconsistency of where his fortune would land if Sarah and Thomas had no biological children.  However, the terms of the trusts conflicted on what would happen under these circumstances. Each document had potentially different outcomes in addressing this situation. Was this a drafting error on the part of my great uncle’s attorney? As it turned out, Sarah and Thomas had no biological children.

With this conflict between the trusts, monumental mayhem broke out some 62 years after Great Uncle Art’s death.

So who inherited Art Hadley’s estate?  His bloodline?  That would be my brother, 11 cousins and me.  Or a couple of women adopted, as adults, into Thomas’ family?

The inheritance case of Art Hadley provided a six-year roller coaster ride through the court system, even landing at the portals of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Time marched on. The fortune dwindled.

Our Attorney, John S. Pfarr, first took the case, thinking we, Art’s bloodline, had a legitimate claim to some of the fortune, but felt we had not a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. However, this turned out to be, as John describes it, “ the case of his lifetime.”

The Art Hadley estate debacle produced one book, The Inventor’s Fortune Up For Grabs by Suzanne G. Beyer and John S. Pfarr, and The Art Hadley Estate Story, a T.V. documentary featured on Investigation Discovery.

Is this how you want your estate to wind up?

Find that Estate Planning attorney, create a clearly worded document, and sleep well tonight!

Oh — and also — Rest in Peace!

Suzanne G. Beyer serves as Associate Editor and writer for Seattle’s Northwest Prime Time magazine and is co-author of the book “The Inventor’s Fortune Up For Grabs” by Suzanne G. Beyer and John S. Pfarr.  Please visit the website for more information on this inheritance story, about the authors, to follow the Blog, and to order the book.