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You would think that members of the British Monarchy would have iron clad estate plans in place, yet 17 years after her passing, we are learning that Princess Diana’s final wishes were not honored as a result of improper planning.
In addition to her will, Princess Diana drafted a Letter of Wishes requesting that all of her jewelry and ¾ of a collection of her personal belongings (referred to as “chattels”) pass on to her children, Prince William and Prince Harry, and that the remaining ¼ be earmarked for her 17 godchildren.
After Diana passed away, the executors of her estate successfully petitioned the probate court for a “variance” of her will. The variance included a delay of the distributions to her sons until they each turned 30 (instead of 25) and gave the 17 godchildren one item each from Diana’s Estate, rather than the one-quarter of the value of all of her personal property (aside from the jewelry).
Making matters worse, the change to Princess Diana’s Letter of Wishes went undisclosed for several years. When it was revealed through unrelated court proceedings, the parents of the godchildren understandably outraged. Rather than receiving 1/4 of the personal property (each share of which would have been worth approximately $160,000), each godchild received what some called a “tacky memento.”
The lesson in this? Letters and notes written by non-lawyers can often fail to be honored. Personal property that is that valuable and important should be addressed directly in a will or trust. This is the only way to ensure that there is no question about what the deceased individual wanted and that there are no variances to their wishes.