Having a will or a trust is essential, but it is only effective if upon your demise, the documents can be located in a timely manner. The family of Florence Griffith Joyner found themselves in this predicament. Florence Griffith Joyner was a famous American track and field star, whom most notably, won three gold medals and a silver in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
Florence broke records in both 100 and 200 meters, earning her the nickname Flo Jo, for being the fastest woman of all time. She was only 38 years old when she passed away in her sleep from an epileptic seizure. Florence had taken the basic steps to ensure that her wishes would be fulfilled by a will. Unfortunately, her husband could not locate the will and was therefore unable to file it within the required 30 days of her death per California law, essentially causing Florence to pass away intestate. Although; while a will would not avoid probate, it would have provided a smoother process. Generally, it is easier to accept the decedent’s intentions when you know they are accurate. A will provides these validations; however, without one your loved ones are left pondering your true intentions.
Due to this misplacement, Florence’s husband and mother found themselves embroiled in a bitter legal battle. Florence’s mother proclaimed she was entitled to live rent-free in her current condominium, per her daughters wishes; yet Florence’s husband disagreed, reaffirming that his wife had never made such a promise. The probate judge appointed a third party to administer her estate, in which the administrator distributed her property in accordance with state law, as opposed to what was outlined in her will. If Florence’s will had been recovered, her family could have been spared the personal and financial expense of the lengthy four-year probate process.
Florence’s tragic story illustrates how death can strike at any time and even the most basic estate planning techniques can fail to achieve their objectives if not executed properly. We recommend that clients share a copy of their estate planning documents with the executor of their estate; as well as, with a trusted family member. If you have concerns that the executor or heirs might not be trustworthy, you may wish to have your attorney retain the originals. It is important to inform at least two people on the location and how to access the original documents. Wills and trusts contain sensitive and emotional information and for that reason many people want to keep these documents private. If these documents are not readily available, then the amount of time, money and consideration that went into preparing and maintaining them will be worthless. Without a will to instruct the probate court on your intentions, there is no way for the court to adequately provide for and protect your loved ones.
No one dreams of having their family torn apart over who gets what and when after they pass away, especially after having the appropriate documents in place. This is your time to ensure your estate plan will work exactly as intended. To protect the interest of the ones you love the most, we would be happy to review your documents and ensure the appropriate plan is in place.