I wish I could point to the specific story I read a few weeks ago, but it has been lost somewhere below page 10 in the rankings of Google when I went back to try to find it. But I remember the facts well enough. A woman with an adult special needs child passed on leaving a substantial amount of money and no Will. Under the law, her son was her only heir, and so her assets belonged to him. However, he was not able to take care of himself, and so his aunt took him in. She also became his legal guardian. But then the aunt and the rest of the family became completely divorced from legal reality and the aunt started spreading the money around.

In the article, and according to the reporter, she seemed genuine enough. She wasn’t taking the money and spending on herself, but instead was giving money to cousins to help support another special needs adult child and an ailing, older relative. “This is what my sister would have wanted,” she said. But then the court got involved, had to assign guardian ad litems to several people, and then the court hearings and procedures started. And the money started to drain. Using the money from her deceased sister, the aunt hired a law firm to “fight for her.” Here are the very simple legal points involved:

  • The money doesn’t belong to the aunt, it belongs to her sister’s child and she has been entrusted to use the money for that child. She swore an oath to use the funds for the child, and she doesn’t get to give the money away to other relatives.
  • The law can not care what the aunt thinks her sister may have wanted. I’m sure other relatives *think* they know what she wanted. But a court system would be overrun by people swearing up and down that they know what a deceased person wanted, and it would all be different. That’s why it has to be in writing in a legally acceptable and properly executed document like a Living Trust or a Will.

This disaster could have easily been avoided if the mother’s wishes were put in writing to protect her son. But instead, the money she left behind is being dwindled through legal fees because her sister compounded the disaster by not following the rules.