Deathbed Wills: Are They Any Good in Virginia?

Deathbed changesMany people who have been considering changing their estate plan put it off for as long as possible. When those people are in an accident or get ill, they often attempt to dictate a new will on their deathbed. How effective are these wills?

There is an interesting case being heard in Sacramento probate courts. A man named Joseph Herb O’Brien was dying in a hospital room. For a long time he had an estate plan that left his entire estate in a trust, the sole beneficiary of which was his stepson. The stepson had a long history of legal problems. Shortly before O'Brien passed away, he dictated a new will to two friends. This new will left the vast majority of the estate to one of those friends instead of the stepson.

The Sacramento Bee has the full story of what is alleged to have happened in an article titled “Final wishes of a ‘good man’ or deathbed fraud? Judge to rule in probate case.” It is a good read that explains all of the minute details of the case. Basically, the judge has to decide whether O'Brien was competent to change his will at that time or whether his friends coerced him into changing it for their own gain.

One thing of particular interest is the fact that it appears O'Brien had considered changing his estate plan on several occasions. The trustee had even threatened to resign on at least three separate occasions if O'Brien left the stepson as the beneficiary of the trust. However, O'Brien never did make the changes.  My clients have likely hit on the one issue that the article fails to mention and that is:  Was the trust funded?  If it was funded, in other words all of Mr. O’Brien’s estate was titled to his trust, then what would his Will control???

If you want to change your estate plan, do not make these mistakes. Get it done while there is still time. Do not rely on a deathbed will. A judge may rule against what you would have wanted.

You can learn more about this topic as well as other strategies on our website under the tab entitled: estate planning in Virginia. Be sure you also sign up for our complimentary e-newsletter so that you may be informed of all the latest issues that could affect you, your loved ones and your estate planning.

Reference: Sacramento Bee (July 13, 2014) “Final wishes of a ‘good man’ or deathbed fraud? Judge to rule in probate case



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