Picked people who look out for your interests and not their own interests

By James Ward

James Ward

You never know what may happen in life. Sometimes things happen fast. What happens when you haven’t prepared your legal documents in advance and others don’t agree with your wishes, whether it be for health care decisions, financial decisions, or issues about who will inherit your assets?

The father had a small “ranch” of about 10 acres that had two houses and horses. When I arrived, Dad was out front in a jacket, seated in his chair, smoking a cigarette. The lung cancer diagnosis didn’t appear to have altered his habit.

He had a daughter, a granddaughter, and a great-granddaughter. He and his wife, who was deceased, had raised their granddaughter as if she was their daughter because their daughter had drug problems and wasn’t around to raise her child. The granddaughter was now in her 20s and had a daughter of her own.

The daughter had come back to help Dad as he was dying, and she was helpful to the point of leaving, while I was there, to buy him more cigarettes.

The elder wanted everything to go to his great-granddaughter, who was less than a year old at the time, but his granddaughter would be in charge of the property and the rental income until the great-granddaughter reached the age of 25. That sounded like a reasonable plan since he said the daughter and granddaughter fought all the time and could never manage the property together, and his biggest desire was to make sure his great-granddaughter had a place to live, and she would then receive control of the property at 25.

Well, as you might imagine, the daughter, who apparently had nothing in the way of assets, later told me that wasn’t what her father wanted. I advised her he was very clear about what he wanted, and if she wanted to live on the property, she’d have to work things out with her own daughter and come to an arrangement.

What happened next? The daughter caused delay after delay after delay, and then I found out she had brought in a different attorney because I wouldn’t make the changes she wanted.

I don’t know what finally happened, and I don’t know whether the gentleman is still alive, but I think the daughter figured out that if her father died without any will or trust, everything would go to her as his only child. Yes, if he died without any legal documents in place, the daughter in her 50s, who had no money and no home, would inherit property and bank accounts totaling more than $1.5 million. Would she go back to drugs? Would she sell the property to get cash? Would the great-granddaughter ever get more than two nickels to rub together?

I don’t know, but I’m guessing the elder’s wishes weren’t going to be followed. His own daughter, the former addict, was railroading him toward the goal of enriching herself. The scenario is sad, but we see it all the time.

Two things to learn here: First, make sure you have solid estate planning documents in place long before they’re needed; second, make sure you’ve picked the right people to look out for your interests and not their own interests. Protect yourself and the ones who you want to inherit your assets.