We have mentioned in previous blog posts that there are many benefits to dividing your estate through multiple end of life documents – Last Wills, living wills, revocable trusts, irrevocable trusts, and so on. Each of these documents has different advantages and can help you to divide your estate exactly how you would like it after you pass away.
But you still have to be careful. Writing these documents and planning your estate may happen over the course of decades. If your financial situation and your intentions change, make sure you take the time to update each document.
Why? Because having multiple end of life documents may cause big conflicts if they divide your estate differently or otherwise disagree with each other.
So how does Florida law deal with conflicting end of life documents? Let’s look at one example, and how it may affect your estate planning and the division of your estate.
Bernal v. Marin
Bernal v. Marin, which recently was settled in the Court of Appeal, concerned the final documents of Renee Zintgraff, who lived in Miami-Dade County. In 2004, Zintgraff created a trust that left money to her cousin, as well as a few different charities throughout the state of Florida. The trust mentioned that it could be revoked by Zintgraff, but did not mention how it could be revoked.
Here’s where it gets tricky. In 2008, Zintgraff drafted a Last Will and Testament transferring all of her property and estate to her friend, Oscar Bernal. The will said, “I, RENEE MARIA ZINTGRAFF, a resident of Miami-Dade County, Florida, and a citizen of the United States, declare this to be my Last Will and Testament, revoking all other wills, trusts, and codicils previously made by me.”
So do the trustees get the money they were promised in 2004? Does “revoking all other…trusts” reference that specific trust?
When Zintgraff passed away, a trustee took the issue to a trial court that ruled in favor of the trustee. The decision was made, stating that since the 2004 trust was not specifically mentioned in the Will, it could not be revoked.
A Court of Appeal later reversed the decision, asserting that wills can in fact revoke a trust, even if it is not specifically mentioned. After all, the Will was said to revoke “all other wills, trusts, and codicils…” Even though Zintgraff only made one trust, it fits under the category of all trusts.
So What Does This Mean for Your Estate Plan?
The case of Renee Zintgraff displays the power of a Last Will and Testament, and also shows how things can get complicated or misinterpreted if you are not careful while drafting multiple documents to divide your estate.
Dividing and executing your estate throughout multiple documents is a great way to avoid probate and smoothly transition your assets over to your loved ones. However, if you’re not careful, your intentions may be misinterpreted and your estate could be divided differently than your original intentions. It also might cause quite a headache for your family and intended beneficiaries.
Stay confident in your collective estate plan by doing the following:
- Keep extra copies of each document you write to divide your estate. It could be possible that Zintgraff forgot or could not access her 2004 trust when she wrote her 2008 Will. A complete collection of your end of life documents will remind you of the promises you’ve made in writing to different beneficiaries or trustees.
- Read through all of your end of life documents together. Make a note of whether the other documents are mentioned. Do all of your documents validate each other? Are any pieces of your estate promised to multiple beneficiaries or trustees?
- Continue to update your will as you create more documents or your financial situation changes.
- Talk to your executor about your final wishes, and give an overview of how you would like to divide your estate. Your executor can be another source of knowledge if there are any questions about your final intentions.
- When you begin to plan your estate, be sure to have a knowledgeable estate planning lawyer by your side. Probate and estate planning laws are constantly changing and being challenged. Your estate planning lawyer will be able to update you on law changes and how they may affect your end of life documents.
Get started on planning your estate now to create the best plan for your future. For more information about the different documents you can write to divide your estate, contact a Florida estate planning lawyer today.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the President of Wintter & Associates, P.A. , a four-lawyer trust and estate firm. Mr. Wintter is a Florida Bar Board-Certified Expert in Trust and Estate Law. With more than 28 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers Magazine for 2011, 2012, and 2014-2016 in Estate and Trust Litigation, and was selected for inclusion to the Best Lawyers in America in 2016 in the area of Estate and Trust Litigation.