Tag Archives: estate

Did you know about these 5 strange bequests?

facts-about-benjamin-franklinWe are constantly urging people to write a will so that their wishes will be known when they die.  Family members won’t have to guess what they wanted to happen to their favorite possessions – their paintings, jewelry and digital assets.  Most bequests are fairly common but some aren’t.

Here are 5 strange bequests made by famous people.

1.  Benjamin Franklin – Don’t Let My Daughter Wear Jewelry.
Benjamin Franklin, suffered from obesity for many years and it’s believed that this contributed to his death. He died of pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining of the lungs, at the age of 84.

When his will was read a surprising clause was found. Among his final wishes, he asked that his daughter, Sarah, “not engage the expensive, vain and useless pastime of wearing jewels”.

The reason for this strange request was actually quite simple. Franklin also left a portrait to his daughter, which he had received as a gift while he was an ambassador to France. The painting depicted King Louis XVI and the elaborate frame was studded with 408 glittering diamonds. Franklin left the request to prevent his daughter from removing the diamonds to make jewelry.

2.  Janis Joplin – Throw A Giant Party.
Janis Joplin lived such a huge life but in the end, she paid the ultimate price for her hard living. She was discovered dead in a hotel room on October 4th, 1970, the victim of a heroin overdose at just 27.  Throughout her wildly successful career, Janis had struggled with addiction and alcoholism.

Janis loved to party so much in life that in her will she made provision for a posthumous all night party to be held after her death. She left $2,500 for her 200 favorite friends – including her road manager, tattoo artist, sister and fiancé to party it up, one last time, in her honor. The party was held at the Lion’s Share, in San Anselmo, California on October 26th, 1970.

3.  Marilyn Monroe – We Needed More Details.
When the blonde bombshell passed away in 1962 she didn’t leave a very detailed will and it ended up having a huge effect on how her possessions were distributed. Or rather, not distributed.

Instead of a comprehensive last will and testament Marilyn left all of her belongings, including clothes and shoes, to her acting coach Lee Strasberg, on the understanding that he would divide them among her family and friends.  Strasberg, who is remembered as the father of the method acting technique, never gave away a single item and instead stored everything in a warehouse where it remained for the next 36 years. When Strasberg died at the age of 80 his widow auctioned Marilyn’s belongings for $13.4 million!

4.  William Shakespeare – My Second Best Bed
Just one month before he died, William Shakespeare compiled his last will and testament where he began by saying that he was in “perfect health.” Scholars today are still unsure of what he died from.

Surprisingly Shakespeare all but excluded his wife, Anne Hathaway, from his will instead leaving the bulk of his sizable estate to his eldest daughter, Susanna. There was a provision that she, in turn, would pass it down, intact, to her first born son. Sadly his direct line died out in 1670.

To his wife he left his “second best bed”.  This request was separate from the will, tacked on as if it were just an afterthought. At this time, leaving someone a good quality bed was far from unusual but some scholars do think this could have been meant as an insult.

5.  Farrah Fawcett – Long Time Lover Gets Nothing, It Goes To Another Ex.
Farrah Fawcett will always be remembered for her role in the original Charlie’s Angels TV series and for the infamous red swimsuit that she posed in for a pin-up poster which went on to become the best-selling pin-up poster in history.

Farrah died in 2009 after a long battle with cancer.  Her longtime partner Ryan O’Neal was surprised to find that he had been left out of her will completely. They had been together for 18 years but had broken up before she died.  She instead chose to leave most of her estate to her son. To add insult to injury she also requested that another ex-lover be given $100,000.

Don’t be like these celebrities.  Spell out what you want to have happen to your belongings.  To avoid misunderstandings or possible court battles, explain what you’ve done if you think it will raise questions from your heirs…or those who have been left out.

To find helpful information about estate planning and writing wills, go to www.diesmart.com.

Are you a victim of a home improvement scam?

Home improvement scamScamming is something that can happen to anyone but it is a major problem for the elderly.  Home repair or home improvement scams are a continuing issue.

According to a 2015 report, an estimated $36.5 billion is lost per year by elderly Americans to various financial scams.

Scammers keep an eye on probate court, making it easy for them to target a widow following the death of her husband.

Typically a fraudulent contractor will convince the elderly individual that they’re in urgent need of a repair, such as a new roof.

In many cases, the unwitting homeowner will write a check for work that is never done.

An unlicensed contractor will seem to be helpful to the senior and will be sympathetic about the need to get the work done.  He will typically ask for a down payment upfront and offer to get the work done with no contract. He will also come to your door or contact you unsolicited, saying that he noticed a problem with your home.

Before hiring one of these people, he should be asked for references from previous customers and their contact information so they can be asked directly about  the contractor.

If no references are provided, you are most probably part of a scam and should not agree to have that person do any work.

For other information of importance to the elderly, go to www.diesmart.com.

Do you know where your parents’ important information is? 

do you know whereIt may seem morbid but have you asked them?  

This article from a New Zealand website is very applicable to us in the United States.  It’s a topic most of us don’t want to broach with our parents but it’s one that’s necessary to address.

Do you know how to get into your parents safe if necessary?

Knowing where their important documents and valuables are located in the event of an unexpected health crisis will give you, and them, peace of mind – especially if a parent is hospitalized and is unable to tell you where things are.

So before anything happens, it’s a good idea to talk to your ageing parents about what you may need to get one day; you may also want to consider letting your own children know where your key information is located as well.

You should ask your parents for the locations of the following items: 

1. Medical records 

If your parents find themselves in an emergency medical situation, doctors will want to know if they have any existing conditions, previous surgeries and any medications they’re currently on. If they have a spouse, that person probably knows the answers but it’s still a good idea for someone else (i.e., you or your siblings) to know just in case both of your parents are unwell or injured. 

2. Health insurance and life insurance information

It’s important to know where your parents keep their health and life insurance info, including any extras. You’ll also need to know where those cards are and you should ask to see their life insurance policies to double check their premiums are up-to-date.

3. Advance healthcare directive

This is a legal document that is also known as a living will and usually includes your parents wishes in the event of a major medical emergency. For example, they may have a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order or a health care power of attorney (POA) which differs from a general power of attorney. A POA allows a person to make decisions on behalf of another regarding his or her healthcare or medical treatment – this becomes active when a person is unable to make those decisions on their own or can’t communicate what they want. That’s why it’s important to talk to your parents about what they want to do if they find themselves in a situation where they’re no longer able to speak for themselves. 

4. Banking information 

This is a touchy subject but if a parent is suddenly out of commission, bills still have to be paid so find out where your parent’s bank is and get their account numbers, online access codes and PINs. It’s also important to learn how your parents pay their bills. Do they pay online, by check or direct debit? Ask them if they’ll add your name or one of your siblings to their bank accounts so someone else can access the account to make payments and manage it. 

5. Investment information 

This is information that cannot be ignored. Find out not only the location of your parents’ investments, but also the name and contact information of their advisor. You’ll also need to know what fees, required distributions and withdrawal penalties are. 

6. Deeds and titles 

Your dad may have kept the deeds and titles to your parents’ property in a box somewhere when you were a kid but do you know where those documents are now? Find out where the deeds to houses and land are as well as titles to their cars and/or recreational vehicles are. You may need them in order to liquidate their assets should a health crisis or sudden move to a care facility occurs.

7. Safe deposit box

Do you know if your parents have one? If yes, find out where they keep it and the keys and ask them what steps need to be taken to access the box. They may need to put your name on file so check with their bank. 

8. Hidden valuables

It’s been three years since my grandma died and my mum is still finding money and jewelry Grandma hid around her granny flat. Grandma lived through the Great Depression and had apparently stashed anything of value in the most curious places: money wrapped in plastic tucked inside the toilet cistern; jewelry hidden in the freezer, between her mattress, and even shoved deep inside the toes of some of her shoes – so it’s important to know if, and where your parents have hidden things. If they don’t want to tell you while they’re still alive, ask them to make a list and keep it with their wills. 

9. Wills, birth certificates, marriage licenses

Asking your living parent about their will may seem morbid and highly uncomfortable for everyone but dying without a will can be a costly affair and could start family infighting. It’s important to know if their wills are up-to-date. You’ll also need to know where their birth certificates and marriage license are located.

10. End-of-life decisions 

My father’s been telling me for years that if Mum dies, to put him in a boat and push him out to sea. While that seems rather melodramatic, it is important to know what your parents would like you to do after they die – do they want to be cremated? Buried at a cemetery? Have a huge party or somber church service? Find out what their end-of-life preferences are and let them know you intend to honor their wishes. 

For more information on this topic, check out our website, www.diesmart.com.


Should you set up a joint bank account?

6-3-jen-stuartWe read an interesting post awhile ago that we thought might help some of you.  The author is Jennifer Stuart, Attorney, Senior Law Project Jennifer Stuart is an attorney in Raleigh with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Senior Law Project (SLP).   The post is repeated here in its entirety.

When I draft wills for older clients, they often ask about “adding a name” to their bank account – in other words, setting up a joint account. Joint accounts can make perfect sense for seniors who depend on family members for help paying bills and other day-to-day tasks. Joint accounts can also help avoid the need for probate, an often-complex process that requires court involvement to carry out the will.

Undoubtedly, joint bank accounts can make life easier for the right people: seniors and their trusted family members or caretakers. However, they can also make things easier for the wrong ones: people who want to exploit seniors and get access to their money. I hear this concern from a lot of my clients. Their son is in and out of rehab, or their daughter may be easily manipulated by an abusive spouse. Is it safe to add their name to the account?

My clients are right to be cautious, because opening a joint account gives the joint owners virtually unlimited access. They can withdraw any amount of money, at any time, for any reason, without your permission. And the process is irreversible: Once you give someone access to your account, the only way to remove them is to close the account. (The same warning applies if you make someone a co-owner of your home with a new deed; you cannot change your mind and deed it back to yourself unless they agree to give back their interest.)

Therefore, my advice to clients is always: Pick someone you can truly trust, and understand how joint accounts work so both you and your bank know what you want.

If you want someone to have access to your account while you’re alive and receive full ownership of the account when you die, then you want a “joint account with a right of survivorship.” If you want this type of account, make sure the written agreement you sign with your bank clearly states that the account has a right of survivorship.

If you want to give someone access to your account only after your death, then you want a “payable on death” account that names a beneficiary. You can set up a POD account if you are the sole owner of the account, or if the account already has a joint owner and you want the beneficiary to be a third party. Be aware, though, that this will create problems if your joint owners do not agree on the POD beneficiary.

Finally, be aware that setting up a right of survivorship or POD account will not necessarily prevent a portion of the account from being used to pay your debts after your death if you have no other money or assets.

So, when clients ask me about “adding a name” to an account, I tell them that joint accounts can definitely make life easier, but they are first and foremost a matter of trust.

For more information about topics of interest to seniors, check out our website www.diesmart.com.


What happened to Ernie Ulrich’s estate?

ErnieWho, you might ask, was Ernie Ulrich. 

Ernie was just an average blue collar guy who served in the army during World War II and died in Chicago at age 85 on December 21, 1999.  He never married and had no children.  His two sisters were his only family.  One sister, Margaret, died three months before him and his other sister, Lillian, died one month after him.

What he did have was a $1.5 million estate.  In his will, which was prepared in 1992, he specified that if his sister, Margaret, predeceased him, the entire estate was to go to charity.  He didn’t leave anything to Lillian because he felt that she was well provided for.

Late last year, more than 17 years after his death, it was discovered that his $1.5 million had never been distributed as he specified.  The lawyer who was supposed to be his executor never carried out his wishes and, since the lawyer died in 2007, there’s no way to find out why.

Most of the money was in investment accounts which were eventually declared inactive.  Once that happened, his assets went to the Illinois state treasurer as unclaimed property.  That included 155 unclaimed properties such as 5,344 shares of Exxon Mobil stock and 6,460 shares of AT&T.

In November 2014, Michael Frerichs became the new state treasurer and he made it a priority to try to resolve high dollar unclaimed accounts.  Ulrich’s was one of these.  Using information from Ulrich’s financial records, the treasurer looked for rightful heirs and, eventually, located the will.

A new executor was named and she finally was able to fulfill Ulrich’s last bequests.  He bequeathed  one third of his estate to the Salvation Army; the remained was to be split among five other charities.

This is definitely a case of better late than never.

I know you can’t guarantee that your executor won’t make a mistake.  However, you should take steps to ensure that more than one person knows where your will is located so that, hopefully, it won’t take 17 years for your estate to be distributed after you die.

For information about estate planning, go to our website www.diesmart.com.