Many people who have been considering changing their estate plan put it off for as long as possible. When those people are in an accident or get ill, they often attempt to dictate a new will on their deathbed. How effective are these wills?
There is an interesting case being heard in Sacramento probate courts. A man named Joseph Herb O’Brien was dying in a hospital room. For a long time he had an estate plan that left his entire estate in a trust, the sole beneficiary of which was his stepson. The stepson had a long history of legal problems. Shortly before O'Brien passed away, he dictated a new will to two friends. This new will left the vast majority of the estate to one of those friends instead of the stepson.
The Sacramento Bee has the full story of what is alleged to have happened in an article titled “Final wishes of a ‘good man’ or deathbed fraud? Judge to rule in probate case.” It is a good read that explains all of the minute details of the case. Basically, the judge has to decide whether O'Brien was competent to change his will at that time or whether his friends coerced him into changing it for their own gain.
One thing of particular interest is the fact that it appears O'Brien had considered changing his estate plan on several occasions. The trustee had even threatened to resign on at least three separate occasions if O'Brien left the stepson as the beneficiary of the trust. However, O'Brien never did make the changes.
It is not clear whether he wanted to or not. If he did, then the mistake he might have made was to wait too long. If you want to change your estate plan, do not make the same mistake. Get it done while there is still time. Do not rely on a deathbed will. A judge may rule against what you would have wanted.
Reference: Sacramento Bee (July 13, 2014) “Final wishes of a ‘good man’ or deathbed fraud? Judge to rule in probate case”