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The recent Michigan Court of Appeals case, In Re Joseph & Sally Grablick Trust, aptly reminds us of the importance of revisiting and updating estate planning documents during the divorce process.
In this case, the decedent, Joseph Grablick, died with an estate plan still in effect from his previous marriage. The decedent’s will and trust left bequests to his former step-child, listed as “Katelyn M. Wrecker, who is my step-child.” According to the facts, Katelyn was 8 years old at the time of the decedent’s marriage to her mother, and he treated Katelyn as his daughter both during and after the more than 20-year marriage. (Even Grablick’s obituary mentions Kaitlyn simply as his daughter.) However, the decedent had not updated his will or trust in the divorce process to ensure that the provisions regarding Katelyn were still valid. Katelyn filed petitions in the probate and a trust case and requested an order determining heirs, ultimately appealing the findings to the Supreme Court. The court ruled that, in absence of express terms to the contrary, Katelyn was not a beneficiary of either the will or the trust because the dispositions to her were revoked under state law by the divorce. That the decedent continued to treat her as his child was irrelevant.
This case is an important reminder that the legal system can undermine an individual’s wishes following a divorce or other familial matters. Take the time to educate yourself about the inheritance law in your state of residence and meet with a qualified estate planning professional to ensure that your wishes are legally documented, remain current, and are carried out accordingly following death.
Contributed by: Leanne Broyles, Esq., Director, Frost Law