The Thrill is Gone, But the Problems are Just Beginning: A Cautionary Tale

Category: Will Contests, Trust Disputes & Probate Administration

2015 saw the end of legendary bluesman B.B. King. While the 15-time Grammy winner died peacefully in his sleep, the time since his passing has been decidedly less so. King’s estate, which is estimated to be anywhere between $5 and $30 million, is being fought over by King’s 15 children from 15 different women.

This is not a tale of a celebrity dying without a Will. King, in fact, had executed two Wills and two Trusts during his lifetime. However, while his earlier Trust (signed in 2007) gave generous allowances to his children, the later Trust (signed in 2014) omitted some of these allowances. The result? Those children whose inheritances were omitted are contesting the 2014 Trust’s validity.

These children say that King was nearly blind and suffering from memory loss when he signed the 2014 Trust. They also say that King had always been financially generous with them during his lifetime and had promised to take care of them after he was gone. However, King’s grandson paints a different story. He says that King was cutting off things little by little. He says that King told him, “Those that have eaten while I live will not eat when I’m gone.”

While no Will or Trust is contest-proof, if King did, indeed, have capacity to sign the 2014 Trust, then certain measures should have been taken to guard against post-death family challenges. The 2014 Trust should have acknowledged any disinheritance and specifically stated the reasons why. Further, King could have executed a letter of intent (i.e., an informal written document) setting forth his wishes and the reasoning behind his dispositive change of heart. Lastly, videotaping the execution of the 2014 Trust could have gone a long way in shooting down incompetency arguments. See Videotape Testimony Can Be Powerful Evidence When Mental Competency is Questioned

Of course, this scenario is one of extremes. But it does highlight the need for not only an estate plan, but one that is well thought out, drafted and executed.

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