All in the family


Whenever I meet with clients to discuss their estate plans, I always recommend that they discuss their decisions with their family members to ensure that everyone understands why the will was drafted a particular way, especially if there is to be an unequal distribution of assets. A good example of this is in the estate of Rosalia Racz, who died on August 27, 2004 at the age of 94. Eleven years earlier, Rosalia executed a will in which she left an apartment building to her son Ernie, with the remainder divided among Ernie and her other two children, Etus and Johanne. Ernie died before his mother, leaving his estate to his daughter, Lisa Maddess. Johanne died before the will was proven, leaving her share to her daughter, Elizabeth Gidney. Lisa requested the will be proven; Etus and Elizabeth opposed this, and asked that Rosalia be considered to have died intestate, with the result that the entire estate, including the apartment building, would be left to the three children (or their heirs) equally. At trial, the court found the will to be valid; an appeal was dismissed, and then a final appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed on June 3. In the end, Rosalia’s will was found to be valid and her estate was distributed in accordance with her wishes, but a great deal of time and money could have been saved, not to mention family relationships, if Rosalia had made her wishes known to all of her children before her death.