Periodically reviewing your Pennsylvania estate plan is critical. Significant life events including marriages, children and moving can dramatically affect how your assets are distributed. Other issues such as changes in state and federal laws can also affect your intended estate plan. In addition to your plan failing, old and unreviseddocuments can delay probate, and in some cases end up in litigation. These are some of the many reasons reasons to periodically review your estate plan to ensure it still reflects your intentions.
As an example, let’s look at a case where a quick and simple Will revision could have saved time, money and easily carried out the deceased’s wishes.
The Jacquinto Estate case comes from the Orphans’ Court of Philadelphia County. First, note the case’s chronology. The testator died in 1989 and the case wasn’t adjudicated until 2006. 17 years!
In Jacquinto, the deceased died testate – but with an outdated and unrevised Will. One provision of the Will specifically bequeathed, ‘to each of my eleven grandchildren, the sum of $10,000 in eleven separate trusts.’ At the time the Will was written, Mr. J had eleven grandchildren. At his death, he had 13 grandchildren with 1 more on the way. Would the grandchildren born after the Will was drafted be entitled to receive the same amount as their cousins?
The quick answer is no. The longer answer took 17 years to litigate, countless dollars and potentially damaged family relationships. In addressing this question, the court first looked to the specific language used in the Will to determine Mr. J’s intent. Since the language was determined to be ambiguous, although arguably not, the court applied precedential canons of Will construction in an attempt to infer Mr. J’s intent.
In this instance, it was clear the Mr. J wished to create a class gift to all of his grandchildren.Evidenced by his inclusion of all living grandchild in the original Will. However, the Will did not account for the possibility of additional grandchildren. And he never revised his will after they were born. One of the canons of Will construction applied by the court favors an interpretation that equally distributes property among those standing in the same relation to the testator. Further, discrimination will not be inferred as the testator’s intent.
The Orphans’ Court of Philadelphia County applied these canons in favor of the two living grandchildren not included in the Will. The judge ruled a $10,000 trust account should be created in their name. However, the unborn grandchild was not so fortunate. The court ruled against creating a trust in his name since he was not born when Mr. J passed.
From the facts, the testator wanted all of his grandchildren to share equally including any future grandchildren after his death. It was not his intent to only allow living grandchildren to inherit from him. This was a simple request. However, by failing to update his documents he not only disinherited one grandchild but also cost his estate significant resources.
Periodically reviewing your estate documents will ensure your goals are met. If you need assistance with probate or with developing your Philadelphia Estate Plan, please call one of our Probate Lawyers or Philadelphia Estate Planning Attorneys for a free consultation. We have Estate Planning Attorneys in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota and Florida.
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