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Vaguely Worded Wills and Vaguely Defined Relationships Make for a Bad Estate Planning Strategy


If you are back on the dating scene in your golden years, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that late-in-life romance is refreshingly free of much of the drama that plagues young couples’ relationships.  If you and your new sweetie are both retired and have grandchildren, you are automatically immune to the disputes that wore away at your relationship with your former spouse, like whether one of you travels too much for work or whether your toddler is getting spoiled because you let him watch TV whenever he wants to.  Some seniors manage to sidestep the “what are we” question entirely; they dine and travel together and get to know each other’s extended family without anyone asking them uncomfortable questions about their relationship status. If you are a senior citizen in a serious relationship, though, the one person who must ask you uncomfortable questions that don’t have easy answers is your estate planning lawyer.

“It’s Complicated” Isn’t Just a Relationship Status for Social Media

According to Maryland law, a surviving spouse can elect to take their “statutory share” of the decedent’s estate.  The statutory share is one third if the decedent had children and half if they did not, and it is based only on the value of the estate in probate.  Therefore, it does not include any non-probate assets such as trusts.  If you are married, you should clearly state in your will what you want your spouse to inherit and what you want to leave to other heirs.  If you leave your spouse less than a third of your estate, they have the right to seek their statutory share during probate.  If you and your partner are not married, you still have the right to leave some or all of your assets to them.

Kirgan v. Parks: A Would-Be Heir Sues an Estate Planning Lawyer Over a Will

Mary Kirgan and Clarence Plitt were in a relationship during his final years.  When he decided to modify his will to leave her some property, they enlisted the services of Z. Townsend Parks, an estate planning attorney, to change the will.  Parks drafted a new version of the will that left Plitt’s “tangible personal property” to Kirgan.  When Plitt died in 1984 and his estate went to probate, Kirgan received Plitt’s furniture and other personal items, for a total value of about $7,000, since this was how the court interpreted the phrase “tangible personal property.”  Kirgan, however, thought it should also include cash, stocks, and bonds.  She sued Parks for using vague wording in the will and also for failing to advise her to marry Plitt while she had the chance.  She claimed that Plitt had intended to leave virtually all his assets to her.  The court ruled in favor of Parks.

Let Us Help You Today

To avoid disputes like the one in Kirgan v. Parks, communication with your partner is key, and so is communication with an estate planning lawyer.  Contact the Washington DC estate planning lawyers at Tobin O’Connor Concino P.C. for help today.


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