The Challenges of Altering a Will – Part 1
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
May 21, 2015
As Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “the only thing that is constant is change.”
Our lives are constantly in motion, and our needs, desires, and situations are always changing. Throughout the course of your life, you may get married, divorced, and remarried. You may have children, and your children may have children. Unforeseen events and surprising circumstances are inevitable, and these can change our plans for our lives and the lives of our beneficiaries.
After creating your estate plan, you may find that your wishes change from what you originally outlined. In such a situation, you need to make sure you update your will accordingly. However, it’s critical to make changes in a way that is legally valid. Fred Putney learned the hard way that an improper attempt to alter a will could render the document completely invalid.
The Wrong Way to Alter a Will
From the day he brought them home from the hospital, Fred Putney had high hopes for his twin sons, Joseph and Thomas. Fred was the owner of a successful neighborhood grocery, and his dream was that his sons would one day run the family business in his stead.
Joseph and Thomas grew up in the family grocery, spending their afternoons working on their homework in the back and playing hide-and-seek with the neighborhood children among the towering displays of fresh fruit and vegetables. When they were old enough, Joseph and Thomas began helping out, working part-time as cashiers and stock boys when they weren’t busy with school and sports.
At first, Joseph and Thomas both seemed liked natural grocers. They enjoyed learning about different foods and arranging attractive display. They took pride in helping the customers and being part of such an important staple in their community.
However, while Thomas kept up his role at the store, Joseph seemed to lose interest after he turned 17 and joined a band. Suddenly, Joseph seemed more interested in playing punk rock and smoking and drinking at his girlfriend’s house than in stocking organic grapefruit and helping senior citizens carry their grocery bags out to their cars like he once enjoyed.
After turning 18, Joseph moved to Seattle to pursue a career in music. Thomas remained at the family grocery store working as assistant manager to his father while he went to a local college. Fred was disappointed that Joseph had drifted away from the family business, but understood that his son was his own person and tried to be supportive of the decision.
When the aging grocer decided to draft his last will and testament, Fred wanted to treat his children equally. He specified that he wanted the rest of his assets divided equally among his sons, except that he left the family grocery to Thomas. After all, Thomas had a genuine commitment to the business. He was already a compassionate and hardworking assistant manager at the shop, whereas Joseph hadn’t set foot in the store in several years.
That Thanksgiving, Joseph unexpectedly showed up at the family home with all his bags. Things weren’t going that well in Seattle, he explained. He was having a hard time breaking into the music industry and even finding a day job in the meantime to support himself. According to Joseph, he’d been treated poorly and was severely underpaid at all of the entry-level service positions he’d held.
Naturally, Fred welcomed him back and said that he was welcome to stay as long as he needed. And both Fred and Thomas said that they could probably find a job for Joseph at the store if he wanted one. Joseph was relieved, and told them so. He just needed time to collect his bearings and figure things out.
Since they were already talking about the store, Fred decided that now was as good a time as any to bring up his will and the plans he’d made. He explained everything to his two sons, including his reasons for making the decisions he did. Their reaction was not what he was expecting.
When Joseph learned that his hadn’t left him equal ownership to the family business with his brother, he seemed more upset than Fred had anticipated. Joseph insisted that he deserved a stake in the grocery store. He’d grown up there, after all, and had worked as assistant manager just like his brother had. And now he was going to be helping out there again. What if he decided to stay? What if he decided to make it his life?
But even more surprising was Thomas’s reticence to the idea of taking over. He loved the store and loved his dad, but college was opening more doors for him, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a grocer forever. Giving him sole ownership was a lot of responsibility.
To his credit, Fred was open to his sons’ desires. But he was still hesitant – he had already spent months writing the will, and wasn’t sure how to rewrite it. Was he going to have to go back to his lawyer again?
“Just pencil me into the document and cross out some things,” Joseph assured him. “It’ll be fine.” Thomas thought that sounded like a good idea, too, but Fred had misgivings.
Read the next post to find out what happens to Fred and his family.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose
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