Every estate plan is unique, just as everyone's life circumstances are unique. Sometimes, though, there are certain life events that may point toward a particular type of estate plan. For some people in certain situations, an estate plan with a revocable living trust may offer an especially high degree of benefit. Making the decision to go out and get a plan is essential, but it is also vital to make sure you obtain the right kind of plan.
For an example of how the right kind of estate planning can make a big difference, look at a court case of a man named Michael from South Florida. Michael's life story involved elements that are probably like many others. He grew up in Pennsylvania and, as a young man in his 20s, married his wife Kelly. As a young father in 1991, he went out and obtained an estate plan with a will. That will left his entire estate to his two children.
As is true for many people, though, life is full of unexpected twists and turns. Kelly developed cancer and, in 2010, she died at the young age of 48. Michael left Pennsylvania and moved to South Florida. There, he befriended a woman named Karen. Eventually, Karen and Michael moved in together and in the fall of 2014, Michael created a new will. This will left everything to Karen. The following March, Michael died.
What ensured was the all-too-common occurrence of strife and estate litigation. Michael's daughter took the older will and began probating it. Karen went to court three weeks later, seeking to probate the second will. What ensued was a protracted litigation battling over whether Karen had followed all of the required legal rules and whether or not she had legal standing to contest the daughter's probating the first will. As of August 2017, all that had been resolved, though the course of a trial court and an appeal was that Karen did, in fact, have the legal right to go forward with her court challenge of the 1991 will.
Perhaps Karen will win or perhaps the daughter will ultimately succeed in court. Regardless, it seems highly unlikely that Michael actually intended for his estate to end as the subject of protracted litigation dispute among his loved ones.
Is there a better way? In many cases, there may be. Using the scenario of this man's estate, a different approach to planning may have provided significant benefits. Once he decided that his estate planning goals had changed, he could have created a new plan with a revocable living trust. That trust could have named Karen as it sole beneficiary and also could have named her as the successor trustee. (In general, beneficiaries - even sole beneficiaries - can be successor trustees of living trusts.)
A plan like might have offered greater clarity and simplicity for Karen. In the court case, had the judges ruled against her, Karen would have lost her right to pursue the benefit promised to her in the 2014 will, all due to the technical rules involved with probate. Trust administration and distribution generally involves many fewer technical rules and time-based restrictions as compared to probate.