Old Man’s Will
I didn’t recognize the man who was sitting in my waiting room. He told me that he was 85 years old. He felt it was time to write a will. He said I probably didn’t know him or remember his wife. She had died a number of years earlier, but she remembered me from the time when I was a college student and spent my summers working locally as a photographer.
His wife had been a photographer. She admired work I had done that she had seen. She told him a few years before she died that if they ever needed a lawyer, they would turn to me. She assumed I would be as good a lawyer as I had been a good photographer. Of course I was flattered by his comment and looked forward to sitting in the conference room and talking to my new prospective client.
He told me that since his wife died, he had not had much of a relationship with their only child, a daughter. He said she had not visited with him in the last 8 or 9 years. She had not spent any of the major holidays with him. She had not sent him a birthday card or a Christmas card. She had not invited him to Christmas dinner. She had refused phone calls from him when he had tried to get in touch with her to make amends for what she apparently had thought had been his less than affectionate treatment of her and of her mother.
He said in view of this situation, he had decided that he was not going to leave his house, or the modest sum of money that he had in the bank, nor some certificates of deposit he owned, to his daughter.
Discussed His Family Situation
We discussed his family situation. We talked about the concept of who he might be expected to leave money to. We explored in our discussion what his alternatives were. We discussed the legal concept of “natural object of his bounty” and discussed the possibility that his daughter might object to, or even attack through the courts, a will that did not follow that concept.
He said he was elderly. He said his parents had died years ago, his wife had died about five years ago. He said his daughter had paid no attention to him, and to her mother, even during the last months or days of her mother's life. He and his wife had no other children. There were no brothers or sisters or nieces or nephews that he was particularly interested in.
They Had Treated Him As A Respected Elder.
He decided before he came to see me that the people that had expressed the most interest in him, and had treated him well, in fact had treated him as family since before his wife died, were his immediate next door neighbors. They were like his children and had treated him as a respected elder.
He went on to describe the young couple, people about the age of his daughter, and people who just seemed to act as if they were his children. The young man had mowed his lawn and would accept no pay for having done so. The young woman would often stop and ask if there was anything she could get for him while she was on her way to get groceries.
There were any number of occasions that she would take a small list from him, get groceries for him, and when she came home and delivered them to him, presented him with the slip from the supermarket and accept a check in the amount of the slip from him, but would never accept anything beyond the actual cost of the groceries.
He went on to say that in the past 3 or 4 years, he had found himself spending Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter holidays with these neighbors. He said they were closer than his daughter had been for years.
He Was Unable To Reconcile With Her
We talked further about his daughter. He had reached out to her. He had trouble understanding why he was unable to reconcile with her, but he had given up attempting to do so. She lived less than an hour away, yet refused to visit with him, spent no time with him, expressed no interest in him, knew nothing about his state of health, and just had estranged herself from him to such an extent that he no longer considered her to be his daughter.
He said that she had even grown cold to his wife, her mother, during the time his wife was slowly dying from cancer. He did not know why. He did not think his daughter and his wife had “had words” nor could he think of any good reason why they had grown estranged. But they had, and his efforts to reach out to his daughter had been rejected.
I explained to him that if he would carry out this plan it would seem to be unnatural to some people. It would be difficult, after he was gone, to explain his feelings and experiences in relation to his daughter and why he was eliminating her from consideration as his beneficiary. We had to document what he was telling me.
I suggested that she might appear after his death and claim that the neighbors had exercised some undue influence over him. Because of his age, he faced the possibility that she would argue that he was not competent when he made the decision to designate the neighbors as his beneficiaries rather than her.
He Was Fully Competent
At the end of our discussion, I said that I would write the Will that he wanted, but that he should take the will to the medical center and have an appointment with one of the psychiatrists there. He should review the Will with the psychiatrist, and he should ask the psychiatrist to provide a letter saying they had reviewed the Will together. The letter would express that he was fully competent. It would express that he fully understood his assets and the extend of his estate, that he was well aware that he had a living daughter, and that he had made a conscious decision, and was competent to make a conscious decision, that he was not going to provide any benefits from his estate for his daughter.
I told him he would incur a cost by following this advice but he would save his neighbors a great deal of difficulty in dealing with a possible challenge that might come from his daughter. I told him it was likely there nothing needed to be provided to the daughter if that was his wish. It became quite clear that is what he wanted to do to.
To go to the extent and cost to meet with a psychiatrist and follow my suggested instructions confirmed his serious intent to me.
I prepared the Will he indicated he wanted. We mailed it to him with a letter confirming my suggestion that he arrange for an appointment with the psychiatrist and then call my office to arrange for an appointment with me as soon as he had completed his meeting with the psychiatrist. I instructed that he bring along the letter that I had suggested from the psychiatrist, and that on the same day as he had had that medical appointment we would supervise the signing of his Will.
He did exactly as instructed. He showed up at my office with a letter written by the psychiatrist testifying to the man’s capacity to sign a Will. We supervised the signing of the Will and tucked it away among the original Wills that we maintain in our Will safe as a free service to our clients.
I did not hear from the man for two years. It was about two years later that I received a call from his next door neighbor telling me that they had been asked to call me and let me know my client had died. He had asked them to call me because I was his lawyer and was to look after his affairs. They had already arranged for his funeral as he had asked them to do. They were to come to my office to received a document that would provide for the payment for his funeral. They did not seem to know about the will.
They came to my office where I showed them the original will. They were surprised to learn that they were not only to be the executors of his estate but they were the beneficiaries as well. We arranged for probate.
I Received A Very Nasty Letter
Within ten days of probating the will, I received a very nasty letter from a lawyer in the community where the daughter lived. He made threats and claims of the man having diminished capacity because of his age, having overlooked the fact that he had a daughter on the one hand, or having been unjustly convinced by the neighbors that they should be named as beneficiaries of the Will.
I sent a photocopy of the psychiatrist’s letter, together with a copy of the Will, that by now had been probated, to the lawyer and never heard from him again. I was proud and satisfied with the advice I had provided and the result of our plan and strategy. The result was just. What do you think?