Law Offices of David Clough P.C.
Areas of Practice
Available for matters in Cook, Dupage, and Will Counties
Established in 2001
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"To mitigate complications and aid in the procedure of devolution of assets after death, a 'will' has to be well planned and drafted." 
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January 2015

A Cautionary Tale About Estate Planning

Just before Christmas, I was notified of my cousin's passing.  A few years back, she asked me to prepare a will for her. I was glad to do it, and even gave her a multi-page checklist to review so that her Executor knew exactly what she wanted in terms of funeral arrangements, Memorial services, who to call when the time came, etc.

 

I then gave a copy of her will and other papers to her for review and comment. I told her to give me a call so we could then schedule a formal signing of at least the will. 

 

I never heard back from her regarding these papers. When I asked if I could get a copy of the will, she always said, "Sure, sure. Next time we are together I will give you the papers for your records. Don't worry. Everything is all taken care of. Thank you for your help." She would then quickly change the subject.

 

Evidently I was not the only one she told this to. The Executor called me a few days after her cousin's passing, and asked if I had a copy of the will. My cousin did not give her a copy of it either. The sole tidbit of information my cousin gave this person was that she was to be the Executor. 

 

The Executor then mentioned that my cousin had a life insurance policy, and that the proceeds were to be used for her funeral and interment expenses. She asked if I knew anything about it but I did not.

 

After a lengthy search for the will and estate papers, the Executor found them at my cousin's home under a stack of papers marked "save-important." The will was never signed nor witnessed. The Executor also found information about the insurance policy. It was mentioned in a letter to someone indicating the name of the insurance company. Armed with this new information, the Executor called the insurance company and dutifully reported my cousin's demise. The rep at the company noted the information, but to the Executor's surprise, explained that a different person was listed as the beneficiary to the policy.

 

The Executor once again called me, asking if I knew this beneficiary. I did not know that my cousin had an insurance policy, nor did I have any knowledge of the beneficiary.

 

After more research, and tracking down the name, the Executor was able to contact the beneficiary and explain the whole situation, and asked her for at least part of the insurance proceeds to pay for my cousin's funeral expenses. 

 

The beneficiary promptly called me and asked for a copy of my cousin's will. I explained the situation as I knew it. Time will tell if the beneficiary will allow some of the proceeds to pay for my cousin's funeral expenses.

 

There are more details to this story, but I share the main part of it as a cautionary tale for all my clients. In hindsight, I should have treated my cousin as a regular client, and made sure that the papers that were drafted were signed, notarized and witnessed correctly. But I felt I was intruding on her privacy when I brought up her estate documents. According to her, the witnesses all saw her sign it, and they verified, that she was of sound mind and body. So please, please make it as easy as possible for your Executor to fully execute your intentions to the best of their abilities. That means having a signed will, making sure your insurance policy's list of beneficiaries is correct and up-to-date, and preparing an estate planning toolkit so everyone will be advised of your intentions and know where to locate all important papers.

 

I hope this email is helpful. As always, feel free to circulate my messages to your personal and professional contacts. And if you or your family members, friends or colleagues need legal assistance, please call or email me. 
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Law Offices of David Clough P.C. | 312-849-3000 | david@davidcloughlaw.com | www.davidcloughlaw.com
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