As Long as You Both Shall Live, and Then What?
In many ways, estate planning is simpler if you and your spouse have been together since you were in your 20s. After a marriage of all those years, you and your spouse share a circle of friends and a decades-long relationship with each other’s blood relatives, whether or not you have children together. Virtually everything you own is marital property. These kinds of marriages are what the courts had in mind, when they designed the laws of intestate succession. When a married person dies without a will, the decedent’s spouse inherits the entire estate. If the second spouse dies without a will, their children inherit the entire estate, and if they did not have children, then another close family member inherits. Bitter disputes can arise over the estate of a couple who were each other’s whole world. Even if each spouse wants the other to inherit the whole estate, it is important to work with a Hillsborough County estate planning lawyer to decide what will happen to the estate after both spouses are gone.
Husband’s Nephew and Wife’s Niece Battle Over Deceased Couple’s Miami Condo
In the early 1970s, Virginia and Mitchell, who had been married since the 1950s, bought a condominium on Key Biscayne. They owned it as tenants by the entirety, which means that Virginia was 100 percent owner, and Mitchell was also 100 percent owner. In 1979, Virginia and Mitchell signed a warranty deed, which was a pre-printed form where they filled in their information by hand. (This was common practice in the 1970s, before word processing software was widespread.) They signed the warranty deed in the presence of their estate planning lawyer and other witnesses. The warranty deed said that Mitchell relinquished his ownership interest in the condo, making Virginia the sole owner. It also said that Mitchell would have life estate, which means that he could live in the house for the rest of his life if Virginia predeceased him. It further stipulated that, after both spouses died, Virginia’s sister Betty would inherit the condo.
Virginia, Mitchell, and Betty all died within two years of each other, and in 2010, when the estates were in probate, a dispute arose between Mitchell’s nephew Richard and Betty’s daughter Catherine. Richard argued that the warranty deed the parties executed in 1979 was invalid, because it did not include the word “waive,” and therefore the condo should belong to Mitchell’s estate, which would pass on to Richard and his siblings and cousins. As often happens in cases like these, the court ruled that parties to an agreement do not need to use “magic words” in order for the agreement to be legally valid. Therefore, the condo went to Betty’s estate, to be inherited by Catherine.
Contact an Attorney for Help
Your Tampa probate lawyer can help you build an estate plan that will avoid conflict in the distant future, even if all you can think about now is enjoying retirement with your spouse. Contact David Toback for a consultation.