There was a woman who called to say her granddaughter died in a car accident 4 years ago. Grandma (Rose) had raised her granddaughter (Lily) and was her legal guardian since Lily was 5 years old. Lily was 18 at the time of the accident. The back story is that Lily’s mother, Rose’s daughter, was a drug addict and could not take care of Lily. Lily’s father was a one-night stand, and no one even knew his name.
As a result of the accident, a settlement of about $500K was paid out to the Estate of Lily. As one would expect, Lily did not have a will. Her estate had to be paid out via intestate, which would mean 50/50 to her biological parents. Rose, although she raised Lily, does not get a single cent from the settlement since Lily was 18 at the time of the accident. A drug-addicted person will receive half, and the other half would sit in the State Treasury department as unclaimed property. The father would have to bring an action into court, prove his paternal connection, and request a distribution of the other half. This is a very tragic story.
It is certainly sad that an 18-year-old who had been through so much, and had an entire future ahead of her, would die unexpectedly. But even more sad is the way the laws of intestacy would benefit two people who clearly did not deserve any of the settlement proceeds.
The definition of “family” has evolved throughout the years. It used to be fairly standard to have a nuclear family of mom, dad and two kids. Now it seems that a family would be more abnormal when it is “nuclear”. There are families with same sex parents. There are families with my children, your children and our children. There are families that have grandmothers raising their grandchildren as their own. There are families with step children that are all treated the same, and yet in the eyes of the law, only “born or adopted” are considered “heirs” for purposes of inheriting. Because of all of the societal changes, it is even more imperative for families to think and write down their wishes now, and update often, and communicate wishes to their families.
The laws are pretty much archaic. They do not consider any other type of families other than a typical nuclear one. It is understandable that there has to be a standard that would need to be followed. Otherwise, everyone would try to say they are considered “family” of the deceased family member.
In any event, the story about Lily and Rose should make one wonder about their own family dynamics.
If you were to die unexpectedly today, who would you want to inherit your estate? This is a question to discuss thoroughly with your will lawyer in Palatine, IL. In Lily’s case, she had no “estate” per se, but 4 years after her death, it sure became an estate valued at $500K. Even though it may be such a farfetched situation, it would have been a much better outcome, had she written a will that named her Grandma Rose as her beneficiary.
Thanks to Bott & Associates, Ltd. for their insight into estate planning and the law.