Once upon a time, there was a young princess who was beloved in all the land for her beauty and kindness, especially by her friends and two little boys. The princess decided to write a letter setting forth the gifts she wanted to leave to them after her death, so they would be well provided for. But, alas – she soon died, tragically and unexpectedly, and the people she had trusted to carry out her wishes ignored them all.
Only her double-crossing, conniving relatives lived happily ever after.
The princess was, of course, Princess Diana, whose wealth and fame could not protect her from the treachery of scheming relatives. (Diana had relinquished her royal title at the time of her death, but we will always think of her as our princess – the People’s Princess.)
As we observe International Women’s Day on March 8, we are reminded that in both life and death, Diana was often as voiceless as millions of other women, her wishes ignored and dismissed. We offer Diana as a reminder that you must take deliberate steps to ensure your wishes are carried out after you pass away.
Royal Wish List
Diana had named her mother and sister as Executors and Trustees of her estate. She wrote a Letter of Wishes detailing how she wanted her possessions distributed after her death. Beneficiaries included her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry; her 17 godchildren; and her friend and butler, Paul Burrell.
Diana died suddenly on August 31, 1997, after a horrific auto accident in Paris. Soon after, her plans for the loved ones she left behind came crashing down.
The problem was that the Letter of Wishes is not an official document; it is no substitute for a Last Will and Testament (“Will”) or a family Trust. Her family was able to go to court and easily change it to erase her desires and substitute their own. Her sons’ inheritance was delayed by the legal battle, and instead of money, her godchildren received “sentimental” trinkets. Instead, their money went to an exhibition of Diana’s possessions, which made her brother and other relatives even wealthier.
The tragic case of Diana’s estate offers three important lessons:
- Put it in writing. Verbal instructions are impossible to enforce, and you never want to rely on someone’s memory for something this important.
- Make it official. Have an attorney draw up your Will or Trust and let your trusted loved ones know where the original will be kept. Although anyone can challenge a Will in Court, having a properly executed Will that was created and signed when the creator had full mental capacity will certainly deter a drawn-out court battle.
- Appoint a Personal Representative (aka Executor) you actually trust. Choose carefully. Your Personal Representative’s job is to carry out your wishes as you stated them; make sure you choose someone who will do so wholly and correctly.
Protect yourself from evil opponents who try to cast a spell over your estate plan and steal everything you worked for. A properly designed plan drafted by an experienced attorney (that can spot legal pitfalls ahead of time) will quash problems before they even emerge. Get started with a free phone consultation by contacting OC Estate & Elder Law at (954) 251-0332 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Our attorneys are fluent in English, Spanish, and Russian.
Our attorneys are fluent in English, Spanish, and Russian.