Peacock Tales • Winter 2015


If it’s not in Writing it Doesn’t Matter. If it is in Writing it Doesn’t Matter.

By Rick Amrhein

The above two statements may seem contradictory but they really are not for attorneys that handle estate matters.

Frequently a client or heir tells us that her grandmother wanted her to have her grandmother’s engagement and wedding rings; or, Dad always wanted me to have the house, including the Gran Torino in the garage, that he built on the assembly line. However if neither promise is in the written Will they carry no weight in the estate’s administration.

Similarly, written directions in the Will may have no effect if they contradict title documents or beneficiary designations. If Adam’s Will states the life insurance proceeds are to pay for his funeral, and the beneficiary of those proceeds is Cain, then Abel, who is administering his father’s estate, has no legal claim to those life insurance proceeds. By operation of the insurance contract the proceeds belong to Cain. Similarly if Ozzie is separated from Harriet he cannot will his one-half of their marital home to Ricky since title is held by Ozzie and Harriet as husband and wife. By operation of law, upon Ozzie’s death, the house is all Harriet’s unless they have been divorced.

The morals of the above stories are as follows. If you want someone to receive a particular asset or item when you pass away it better be in your Will. However, where an asset is subject to a beneficiary designation, or a matter of title, then it is important that you make sure that the beneficiary designation or title coincides with your intended gift of that asset.

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