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Having your Will and Trust professionally drafted by an estate planning attorney costs money, of course. However, the potential cost and risks of taking a do-it-yourself approach can be much, much higher. That’s also true for making updates to previously prepared Wills or Trusts. For one New York woman, her mother’s partner’s reliance on a friend to update her Will could end up costing her the inheritance she believes she is due.
Emlie Anderson moved to New York to help her aging mother care for her mother’s partner of almost 20 years, who was battling cancer. Unfortunately, her mother’s partner, Jill Morris, died in 2016. Just twelve days later, Emlie’s mother, Joan Anderson, suffered a stroke and died.
Before Morris’ death, she asked a friend who was computer-savvy to pull up an electronic copy of a Will Morris had hired an attorney to prepare, so the friend could make some updates to reflect Morris’ changed wishes about specific distributions to friends and loved ones. That updated Will is now the center of a court battle between Emlie and three charitable organizations.
In her updated Will, Morris left a sizable bequest to her partner, Joan Anderson. However, that bequest was included in a section of the Will with other specific bequests, and included language stating the named recipients would only inherit if they survived Morris by at least 30 days. Because Joan died twelve days after Morris, a plain reading of the document says that the inheritance intended for Joan should instead flow to the three residual charitable beneficiaries.
Emlie’s argument is that Morris and her mother should be treated as common law spouses, in which case the inheritance originally intended for her mother should pass to Emlie. The state of New York and the charitable organizations argue that Jill Morris and Joan Anderson could have legally married after 2011, but chose not to do so.
In March 2019, the New York Surrogate Court ruled in favor of the charities. However, Emlie Anderson has appealed this ruling so it is unknown at this time who will ultimately inherit under Morris’ Will. Had Morris hired an estate planning attorney to update her Will, it is possible that there would have been no ambiguity in the interpretation of the document after her death.
To find out how working with The Estate & Legacy Law Center can provide valuable peace of mind to you and your loved ones, contact us today!