This mistake is so common, it hurts. The worst example of this mistake involved Larry Hillblom, a co-founder of DHL. Mr. Hillblom was worth $600 million when he died in 1995. He created his own will, leaving over 95% of his estate to California universities for medical research. However, the absence of one simple sentence in his will completely destroyed his plan and cost his estate $390 million. The omitted sentence was a simple term disinheriting any unknown children he may have fathered. The mistake cost $150 million in unnecessary taxes, $200 million in distributions to the unknown children, and $40 million in probate and attorney fees.
Every internet trust we have reviewed for clients is full of these kinds of mistakes: failure to plan for common situations that end up costing untold misery and decimating a person’s assets.
Some of the most devastating and expensive mistakes involve failure to draft for situations involving (1) medicaid planning, (2) a spouse or a child who may become incapacitated, (3) special needs children or grandchildren, (4) second marriages, (5) spouses of children, (6) the death of a child, (7) promissory loans or gifts of assets, (8) business ownership issues, or (9) minor children or grandchildren. In regard to medicaid planning, it is devastating how easily a poorly drafted estate plan can destroy the community spouse, when the other spouse is in a nursing facility.
As noted in Mistake 1, it is a sad and ironic fact that some people, in their rush to avoid attorneys, guarantee that their beneficiaries will have to deal with attorneys. Incidentally, Larry Hillblom himself was an accomplished attorney (and judge)–just not in the area of probate or estate planning!
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