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An estate plan is the only way to secure your life’s work and legacy after you’re gone but this is only true if the plan works. Executing your estate plan in consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney is a (very important) part of protecting your last wishes but it’s not the whole story. Only sound financial advice along with professional guidance can leave no doubt that the instructions set out in your plan are respected. This is because estate planning is not just about having the right documents, but about drafting them in a way that ensures they remain viable no matter what the future may bring.
How Do Estate Plans Get Derailed?
Estate planning is as much about leaving a legacy as it is about caring for loved ones. You’ve worked hard all your life and you want to leave something behind. Everybody does. This impulse is great but it sometimes grows tangled when people place restrictive conditions on how financial gifts may be used. Those who worry about their loved ones’ spending habits or who include a charitable contribution in their plan are especially prone to this.
When an estate plan grows too detailed or restrictive it risks not being followed. Sometimes court intervention is needed to change or eliminate certain restrictions so that the spirit of a gift remains viable. When this happens, loved ones are burdened with a costly legal mess instead of the support your plan sought to provide.
The case of Adam Barnes is exemplary.
Barnes was a wealthy chemist who accumulated an art collection valued at more than $25 billion today. He died in a car accident in 1951 and his widow passed in 1966. The couple had no children and so Barnes’ estate plan dictated that a private foundation be formed to care for his art collection.
Were it not for the fact that Barnes hated the professional art community, this would not have been a problem. However, he did and so he established extensive rules for the foundation to follow in perpetuity in the hopes that his collection never ends up in the sort of museums he despised.
He directed his artwork never be moved from the suburban Philadelphia facility he built, that it be displayed exactly as arranged at the time of his death, that no pieces ever be lent or toured, and that public viewing only be permitted one day a week.
Barnes’ restrictions aimed to protect a vision but they ultimately imperiled it. The trustees of the foundation were forced to petition the court to lift many of the restrictions so that the collection could be properly preserved. Barnes’ most precious possessions ended up in a museum and under the care of the art world he hated because his attempts to prevent this from happening were too complex to be practical.
It’s hard to imagine the sort of financial advice or legal advice that would have allowed Barnes’ vision to be preserved but his is an extreme case. Most people’s estate plans don’t involve a $25 billion-dollar fortune and are thus easier to navigate. It is always best to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to review any conditions set in place to ensure they are feasible. Such experts are your best resource for the financial advice or planning advice needed to realize your estate planning goals.
Contact the Estate Planning Attorneys at the Law Firm of Christopher W. Dumm