When it comes to explaining estate planning to someone… It’s hard, even for John Coppola. Like many complicated topics, the best way to illustrate the main points is through conjecture and stories. While there are many pitfalls that one may come to in their quest for the perfect estate, some of the most famous ones show clearly just what bad planning can get you.
One case is the will of Jerry Garcia, the leader of the Grateful Dead. When he passed in 1995, his will was read and some problems were immediately evident. The will read that his wife was to receive $250,000 a year for 20 years. The problem was not that Jerry had not accumulated enough wealth, the problem stemmed directly from poor management and maintenance of his will.
Jerry divorced and remarried over the course of his lifetime, but the will promised money to his ‘wife’ while he was still married to his present ex-wife. Ambiguities in the will awarded to Jerry’s ex-wife a real platform from which launch her suit. The resultant disagreement between Jerry and his will’s intent and the actual words, caused a 4 year court battle.
Jerry’s ex-wife finally settled with $1.5 Million instead of fighting what would have been a 20-year court battle for $250,000 per year.
Ambiguities in a will can cause just as much trouble as a wrong name or misspelled word. EVERY WORD MATTERS. There’s a reason why the only way to truly learn to write a good will comes from years of experience, like those attorneys at the Coppola Law firm.
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John M.Coppola was admitted to the Virginia State Bar in 1989 and currently lives in Northern Virginia, and practices law principally out of his Fairfax, Virginia office of The Coppola Law Firm, PLLC