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Avoiding Wills Disputes? What Your Estate Planning Attorney Needs

Why Revealing Personal Information to your Estate Planning Attorney
Is Essential To Successful Planning

By: David M. Frees III, JD

Ever wonder how much or what information has to be revealed to your estate planning attorney to make sure they do the job right? The more information you expose regarding relationships as well as other pertinent issues, the better your attorney will be able to assist you during the estate planning process.

If you neglect to disclose information to your attorney, your estate planning may not fully safeguard your assets or carry out your wishes as it was originally intended. For instance, the estate of Thomas Kinkade, who is a well-known American painter who died in 2012, is still in dispute because of a lack of information provided to his estate planning attorney. In short, he omitted gifts to his companion and executed “side documents” that contradicted his estate plan.

Kinkade had a wife and family, but also had a girlfriend. Kinkade’s girlfriend has produced two handwritten Wills, known as holographic wills. These two handwritten Wills indicated that she was the sole beneficiary of his estate. Additionally, the Wills suggested that the girlfriend was entitled to Kinkade’s $66 million art collection, as well as, $10 million to manage a museum highlighting his art. When the girlfriend came forward with the holographic Wills, Kinkade’s wife and family were stunned as they had probated documents carefully that were prepared by his lawyer.

The girlfriend then filed a motion to probate the disputed wills. However, the estate attorney refuted the motion suggesting that Kinkade’s girlfriend had breached a confidentiality agreement intended to protect his wife and family. Furthermore, the estate attorney suggested that estate and trust documents were considered final meaning that the girlfriend’s holographic Wills were not valid.

Ultimately, the dispute of Kinkade’s esate will be left for the court to decide. However, if Kinkade would have met with his estate planning attorney and disclosed this information the outcome could have been much different. Kinkade and his attorney would have come up with a plan so that his specific wishes regarding his estate would have been made very clear and would have been less open for attack. Instead, Kinkade left behind estate planning documents as well as handwritten wills that oppose one another causing significant confusion and cost.

Even though you are not required to reveal information to your estate attorney regarding relationships or other personal issues it is in your best interest to do so. By not disclosing relevant information your estate can be put at risk just like Thomas Kinkade’s estate.

Finally, if despite your best intent a dispute has developed concerning an estate, will, or trust, then consider mediation to resolve these problems in a faster, and more cost efficient way. For additional information on solving estate, will, and trust disputes with mediation see our estate mediation videos.

For more information on the details of your estate planning download our Enhanced Estate Planning Guide.

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