An estate plan story seemingly out of a Hollywood movie script

Readers might associate stories of a secret last will and testament -- perhaps lost and rediscovered in an attic or hidden inside an old book -- with Hollywood fiction, rather than the stuff of real life. However, a widow attempting to collect an estimated $18 million inheritance from her late husband is experiencing just such a dilemma.

Specifically, the widow had lived in a separate apartment from her late husband. After he passed away, the management company changed the locks to his unit. The landlord has denied the widow access until she pays the rent that is allegedly owed. Yet the widow claims that her late husband’s financial documents are in that apartment. Without them, she cannot collect on her inheritance.

In many ways, a trust can eliminate this potential issue. A trustee is usually appointed at the time of a trust’s creation. Consequently, the grantor’s passing does not cause a mad scramble for important or missing estate planning documentation, as the trustee has been managing the trust assets for some time. Of course, a comprehensive estate plan may involve other types of legal instruments, such as a power of attorney, an advance health care directive, a revocable living trust and a pour-over will.

An attorney that focuses on estate planning can offer practical advice for giving loved ones access to estate plan documents in the event of the grantor’s incapacity or death. Traditionally, an attorney might keep copies of such documents for a client. Thanks to technology and cloud storage, electronic copies of important documents -- perhaps scanned so that the signatures are visible -- can now be kept online using accounts with Dropbox or other providers.

Source: USA Today, “Widow is locked out of apartment – and $18M inheritance,” Matthew Diebel, Sept. 9, 2014


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