George Zeevering probably thought he could save some money by writing his own will without getting the advice of a lawyer.
It seemed simple enough. He had five children but was close to only two of them, his son Wayne and his daughter Diane. He wanted to be sure that Diane got his red pick-up truck, so he put that in his self-drafted will. He also wanted to make sure that Wayne got his summer property in Maryland, so he put that down as well.
Apparently he didn’t want anything to go to his other three children so he wrote the following sentence in his will: “The failure of this will to provide any distribution to my children, Laura Bonner, Kathleen Archacki, and Jennifer Rios is intentional.”
More likely than not, this meant he wanted the rest of his estate (worth $217,000) to go to his favored children, Wayne and Diane. But he didn’t specifically say that in the will he wrote for himself. And now we will never know for sure what he wanted, because Mr. Zeevering died on August 3, 2011.
Diane did get the truck. And Wayne did end up with the Maryland summer property. But George’s will failed to specifically describe who should get the remainder of his estate. Judge’s call this a “residuary clause.” George’s will didn’t have one.
When there is no residuary clause, the undesignated portion of the estate goes according to the laws of intestacy. Those are the state laws that say who inherits from you if you didn’t leave an adequate will, trust, or other instructions. In George’s case, the Pennsylvania intestate laws say that his remaining estate should go equally to all five of his children.
Of course George didn’t know that. He wasn’t a lawyer. He probably thought that the remainder of his estate would go to Wayne and Diane. But the law can be very demanding. It contains traps for unwary people like George. He made a mistake that anyone could make. And his children Wayne and Diane ended up paying for it.
Now it’s bad enough that George’s carelessness in writing his own will meant that all of his children ended up in a lawsuit. And that the lawyer’s fees were many times more than George would have paid to have legal help to write his will.
Even worse, his favored children lost the lawsuit, and 60% of his estate went to the three children he probably wanted to get nothing. That’s the big problem with wills – if you make a mistake, or are unclear about something – it’s really hard to fix it when your will is read after you are dead.
Don’t be penny wise and dollar foolish. Don’t create a mess for your family as you leave this life behind. Save your family from unnecessary conflicts and expense. See a lawyer for advice when you are ready to prepare your will.
If you live in NorthCentral or Northeastern Pennsylvania, you can make sure your family doesn't end up in mess like George's by calling the elder law and estate planning lawyers at Marshall, Parker and Weber at 1-800-401-4552. There is no charge for your initial appointment.
The case is: In Re: Estate of George Zeevering, case number 316-2012, decided November 7, 2012 in Delaware County Pennsylvania Orphans Court.