When John Meier* died, he thought he had taken care of everything. He even left a will expressing his wish for his two children to share the lakefront property he had owned for over 50 years. Unfortunately, sometimes, wishes don’t come true.
The traditional will his family lawyer helped him draw up stipulated that his two children should share the property that he had bought after returning to the States from his service in World War II. A highly decorated veteran, Colonel Meier had a penchant for orderliness and responsibility. He was a loyal family man.
Five generations of his family had vacationed on that same land starting with his parents, children of Swiss and German immigrants who worked hard in the coal mines of Southern Illinois. He could never have imagined the pain that would result from his seemingly simple request in what he believed was a legally binding document.
Sometimes Wills Can’t Accomplish What People Think They Can
Immediately upon Meier’s death, thinking that to “share” the property meant sharing the money from its sale, Meier’s estranged son sold everything he owned in California and promptly moved into his father’s house on the property. Saddled with gambling debt, Meier’s son and his wife seemed eager to gain access to the money that would surely come from the estate. They hired their own appraiser, an old friend from high school, who estimated the value of the property at over 2.5 times what it was really worth. Hoping to borrow against his part of the estate, the son tried to take out loans and assumed the property would eventually be sold.
Meanwhile Meier’s daughter, the executor of the will and his constant caregiver as he had aged, understood the non-fiscal value of the property. She knew exactly what her father meant when he said he wanted the land to be “shared.” He wanted it to stay in the family and continue to be enjoyed by everyone just as it had while he was alive. She had always imagined retiring to this special place where she grew up, hosting extended family for fishing trips in the summer and watching her grandchildren explore the same woods that she had as a child. She assumed her father’s wishes, conveyed in his will, would be carried out. She was wrong.
Long Legal Battles Over Wills Have Drained Many Estates
For more than three years the two sides fought about the property, the son wanting to sell it, the daughter wanting desperately to keep it, trying to carry out her father’s wishes. All the while, the estate was drained of any financial resources that could help pay taxes on such a large piece of lakefront property. The financial solvency of the remaining land was in question, and the siblings’ relationship with each other completely dissolved. Despite having thought he had done the right thing in preparing a will, John Meier’s estate was in total shambles. Lawyers ended up getting most of his money as the fight dragged on, and the land was eventually sold for a fraction of what it was worth, the buildings having stood unused for years.
Bad Estate Planning Breaks Up Good Families
Just a few months after Meier’s son got his way and the land was sold, he disappeared, severing ties with his entire family, leaving a wake of hatred, disgust, and anger in his path.
It is agonizing to think that all of this could have been easily prevented by a simple tool – a trust. With a trust, Meier could have stipulated that by saying he wanted his children to share the land, he literally meant the land, not the potential profit made from selling the land.
His dreams and his hard work would still be available for future generations. Instead, his great-grandchildren, recently born, will never experience firsthand the property their great-grandfather loved so much. All of that is lost, forever, and a grieving family continues to grieve years after his death every time they hear any mention of the town he lived in, the name of the lake the property sits on, or when visiting cousins who still own the property next door. It is a wound that will not heal anytime soon, and it was all preventable.
Be sure to turn your “wishes” into reality by preparing properly for the inevitable. Don’t leave your family “wishing” you had done something more after it is already too late.
At Edwards Group we believe that everyone deserves a clear and logical plan to protect their family and their assets. We make the process as easy as possible by:
- Evaluating your family’s needs.
- Tailoring a plan that’s right for you.
- Creating a plan that leaves you feeling secure and well-prepared for the future.
*The name of the family and some details have been changed