Interesting News from the World of Estate Planning: Where There is a Will, There’s a Way

Napoleon’s Will Tells the Story of His Final Days

Napoleon_saintheleneNapoleon Bonaparte was the first Emperor of France and an aggressive general before his defeat at Waterloo. In the Spring of 1821, shorn of power and imprisoned by the British on Elba, he was a broken man dying of cancer.

Napoleon’s last will paints a picture of this once “powerful” man trying to extend his influence through the distribution of his remaining possessions. Written three weeks before his death, the will leaves a fascinatingly precise inventory of the end of his life and his final wishes.

One of his last wishes, to be buried on the banks of the Seine, was ignored by his captors (his body was later moved from British soil to Napoleon’s Tomb, a Paris landmark). Historians value this document as an artifact from the end of a distinguished and notorious life. A copy transcribed by his secretary recently sold for $438,000 (the original document, in Bonaparte’s undecipherable scrawl, belongs to France’s National Archives).

Your will may not end up in a museum, but its value to your loved ones is immeasurable. Call your lawyer today to update your estate plan.

Will They Challenge My Will When I’m Gone?

When Taruk Ben-Ali died in 2004 his purported will was found among the possessions of his dishonest and mentally ill father. The signature of one witness was illegible. The trial court admitted the purported will, citing a 1936 case in which a valid will had two witnesses but a faulty attestation clause.

The appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision on the grounds that the Probate Code § 6110(c)(1) requires two witnesses to sign a will. Estate of Ben-Ali (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 1026.

Was this really Taruk’s will? We’ll never know. The statutory requirements for witnessing your will must be carefully followed if you expect the court to honor it.

Mommy “Deprivation” Dearest

Joan_Crawford_-_1936_-_HurrellJust as you can pass money down to your children, they can also inherit your relationship to money – which can have a much more profound impact on their lives than the value of your estate. One of the most infamous examples of parents passing unhealthy financial attitudes to their kids is legendary Oscar-winning actress Joan Crawford.

According to her adopted daughter Christina’s 1978 tell-all memoir Mommie Dearest (and the 1981 film adaptation), the wealthy Ms. Crawford used verbal and physical abuse in an effort to keep her children from becoming “spoiled Hollywood brats.” She also disinherited them in her will “for reasons they well know” – provoking Christina to write her profitable exposé.

The Crawford family saga tells a cautionary tale about the tragedy that results when extreme deprivation is used as a weapon in family conflict. Practicing “enlightened wealth,” on the other hand, teaches your heirs valuable life and money lessons by preparing them for inheritance – and shows that you really care.

About the author:

ogradyJohn O‘Grady, O’Grady Law Group, APC,  is the immediate Past Chair of BASF’s Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Section.