My clients tire of me telling them this. Yet, too often it seems a well designed estate plan goes awry. Here’s an example I picked up from a post by Lou Ann Anderson in a report she wrote. Pay attention to this. This concerns a large estate. That’s not the point. It happens to estates of all sizes.
In New York City a trial is underway in which Anthony Marshall, son of New York socialite and philanthropist Brooke Astor, and estate planning attorney Francis Morrissey, Jr., face charges of using undue influence and other fraudulent activities to divert more than $100 million of Astor’s estate to Marshall and away from long-standing charitable beneficiaries. Along the way, a number of attorneys, including Morrissey, handsomely profited from this effort. Morrissey is facing criminal charges and other attorneys involved are viewed as having committed major ethical breaches.
Allegedly, Brooke Astor was the target of what’s referred to as an Involuntary Redistribution of Assets, an effort in which estate planning documents were used to divert assets in a manner believed contrary to her intentions. Similar acts are occurring throughout the U.S. with estates of all sizes being targeted.
There are some, including Ms. Anderson, who believe that misbehavior within the legal community is causing this to happen far too frequently. If it happens once it’s too often. A more accurate interpretation is that there are bad apples in all professions – medical, accounting, financial, banking and…legal. Let’s concede the point that each industry needs to crack down on these transgressions. Typically, the legal system cleans up the bad actors.
That’s not the point. The point is bad behavior can ruin a good plan, whether the behavior comes from your advisors, your trustees, or more typically your own beneficiaries. Expert legal counsel can advise you how to create an estate plan that will carry out your wishes to a “T.”
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