A Michigan man's estate plan became entangled in litigation because two of his beneficiaries claimed they had an oral agreement with the man regarding the distribution of his assets. The case serves as a lesson to anyone making an estate plan to ensure that your plan documents are updated and correct, in order to reflect all of your goals and objectives.
Making sure that the estate plan that gets carried out distributing your assets to your loved ones matches your actual objectives is probably among the biggest goals of anyone creating an estate plan. To make sure that happens, you should put all of your intentions in writing, in order to minimize the risk of confusion and discord, as a recent case from Michigan illustrates.
The case pertained to the estate plan of William Weigle. Weigle's neighbors, Stephen Demyanovich and Timothy and Linda McConnell, all provided care for the widower, whose wife and only child had predeceased him. Weigle wisely executed an estate plan years earlier, in 1994. Weigle's trust dealt with his two biggest assets: his house and a Comerica account worth roughly $2 million.
Weigle amended his plan three times to distribute portions of his wealth to his caretaker neighbors. When he amended his documents in 2007, he left roughly 70% of the financial account and half his house to the McConnells. Four years later, he changed his plan and left the entire house to the couple but gave them nothing from his financial account.
After Weigle passed away in 2012, the McConnells sued Demyanovich (all three of whom were co-trustees of Weigle's living trust.) One of the things they claimed in their lawsuit was that they had an oral agreement with the elderly man. The deal stated that, in exchange for their providing personal care services, the couple was supposed to receive a part of the financial account.
The McConnells lost their lawsuit. Whether Weigle ever promised the couple what they claimed he did will forever remain unknown, as the only “proof” of the oral contract was the couple's statements that it existed. Perhaps Weigle actually meant for each of his neighbors to get what they got under the terms of his plan as amended in 2011. If that is the case, then his plan worked exactly as it was supposed to, and the lawsuit between his neighbors and co-trustees is an unfortunate reminder that sometimes estate contests are difficult to avoid.
If, however, Weigle did make the oral promise to the McConnells, and intended to honor that agreement, then the plan may not have player out the way he truly wanted. If this was the case, then Weigle's plan serves as a reminder that, when you are making an estate plan, always put your objectives and goals in writing in your plan documents. An oral promise can be extremely difficult to prove and enforce, especially if written documents exist that say something different.