Are you a personal injury or workers’ compensation attorney who has won a settlement? What do your clients do with their settlement? Do they plan for the future?
In my years as an estate-planning attorney, I’ve seen many sad situations. Among the saddest were several occasions when a person won a large judgement, a lottery, or even received a surprise inheritance, then died without an estate plan.
To the families unprotected by an estate plan it often comes as a surprise that they cannot just distribute the estate as they wish, or even as they feel sure their deceased relative would have wanted. This is because the law, not the intended beneficiaries, has at lot of say in who inherits from a person without an estate plan.
(Note that I’m not just talking about wills. See my video “Why a Will Is Not Enough” now.)
For example, I had a situation where a client wanted to leave everything to his wife for her life, then, after her death, on to his sons. But he died without finishing and signing the estate plan I had prepared for him because he did not want to think about his death. Then he died at a young age “intestate” — without a will.
He had previously inherited a piece of real estate, an apartment building. In California, inherited property is “separate property” even though California is community property state. That means his apartment building did not automatically go to his wife.
By law because there was no estate plan, the real estate went one-third to his widow and two-thirds to his sons, not at all what he had intended.
Similar situations have resulted in property passing to relatives the decedent had never even heard off, or even those he or she despised!
(The law goes into great detail, describing exactly to what relatives, ever more distant, the property goes. As you might guess, it is evenly divided among relatives of each degree of kinship — regardless of whether the decedent was speaking to that part of the family or not!)
It’s very important that personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys, as well as lawyers or financial planners dealing with clients who have suddenly come into money, make sure the client has an estate plan put into effect as soon as possible.
This may be as great a benefit to the client as winning the case itself.
If you need help with a client’s estate plan, please email Mitch at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him in Beverly Hills, California, at 310 277-1848.