It’s Not Just Documents

Frank Casagrande set up an irrevocable trust in which he was to transfer his life insurance policies.  At the time, he was married to Roberta, who was named as the beneficiary of one of his policies.  The beneficiary designation was never changed. Subsequently, Frank divorced Roberta and married Rosemary.

After Frank died, Rosemary filed an action to have the policy reformed to conform with the property settlement agreement which Frank entered into with Roberta, as well as his Will and his trust.  One of Frank’s children contested this action.  Although the court enforced the agreement, the matter was brought to the Appellate Division before its final resolution, which meant lots of time and legal fees.

This case demonstrates the need we have to stop looking at estate planning as merely documents.  For many, substantial assets pass outside of a will, such as life insurance, annuities, retirement plans, and jointly held accounts.  One can argue that Frankshould have made sure that this beneficiary designation was changed.  However, the Casagrande case is played out far too often in the administration of estates.  Professionals need to insure that plans are properly implemented.  Clients need to insure that they hire the attorneys and advisors to do so.

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