Newman Law Group

Definition of terms can impact one's heirs

In this day and age, it is not unusual for people to marry multiple times and/or to have children out of wedlock. These situations can complicate inheritance and estate planning for the families involved. A recent case in California illustrated the potential complexity of this issue. How terms are defined in one's estate plan can have significant bearing on the identity of one's heirs.

Elizabeth Hurley, the actress, has a son with businessman Steve Bing, but they are not married. Mr. Bing's father, millionaire Peter Bing, recently passed away and left a portion of his estate to his grandchildren. The trust had been created to benefit future grandchildren so the heirs were not specifically identified.

The trustee argued that the trust was intended for legitimate grandchildren only. The judge in the case disagreed and indicated there was no ambiguity as to the definition of the word "grandchildren." The grandson in question, Damian Hurley, stands to inherit several million dollars.

Damian's father, Steve Bing, accused his sister of trying to deprive his children, (he also has a daughter from another relationship) of their inheritance. He asked the judge to penalize her but the judge refused.

The more detailed one can be in defining terms in a will the better for all concerned. One purpose of estate plans is to help prevent family stress and arguing at what can be a very emotional time. The estate does not need to be a large one to be marred by family arguments -- they can arise over who gets a cherished brooch or photograph. The more specific one can be the less likely one's heirs will be to squabble after one's passing in California.

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