Often couples with no children think that they don’t need a will because their spouse will fulfill their wishes with respect to extended family. Sometimes it works; often it doesn’t. Though we can hope, we simply cannot predict what the future will hold for us or our loved ones, which is why planning is critical. Incapacity can strike in more ways than one leaving our extended family members or favorite charities empty:
Gina and Lisle were in their second marriage. Gina was a widow when she and Lisle met. Her first husband was a generous man, with no extended family, so he left Gina the bulk of his estate. Lisle’s ex-wife retained a very good divorce attorney, so she ended up with nearly everything he owned, including the shirt off his back. Fortunately for Lisle, his ex found a wealthier second husband and Lisle was eventually able to buy a new shirt.
Neither Gina nor Lisle had children but both had siblings and Gina had nieces and nephews who captured her heart. Lisle only had one brother, Jake, a scoundrel and leech, living off relatives and women who took pity on his substance abuse and inability to stay employed for longer than a couple of weeks.*
One day, Lisle received a call from a hospital. Gina had been admitted after slipping and falling on an icy intersection crosswalk. She broke her ankle as a result of the fall. Lisle arrived at the hospital and the doctor told him that while treating Gina, they noticed she had an irregular heartbeat. They wanted to examine the cause and decided to keep Gina for a few days and run tests during that time.
After running the tests, doctors determined that Gina had severe blockage but before the hospital could treat the blockage, Gina developed a bacterial infection. And this bacteria was very resistant. The bacteria was so resistant and Gina’s immune system so compromised by the blockage that she never recovered and died in the hospital.
Gina left no will or trust but had a verbal understanding with Lisle that part of their combined estate was to go to Gina’s nieces and nephew to assist with their college education. However, as Lisle floundered in grief after Gina’s passing and became gravely ill himself a little more than a year after Gina’s death, he fell victim to Jake’s undue influence and the nieces and nephews never got a dime.
Sometimes it’s not your incapacity but the disability of others that may undermine your wishes if you haven’t a solid plan in place.
*Whether he realizes it or not, Jake is incapacitated with respect to Illinois law, whose definition of incapacity includes, “because of gambling, idleness, debauchery or excessive use of intoxicants or drugs, so spends or wastes his or her estate as to expose the person with disability or dependents to want or suffering.”