Proper Naming of Beneficiaries is Essential in Estate Planning Documents
02/16/2011- Robinson Donovan Case Digest
By Attorney Michael Simolo
It may seem obvious, but it is always essential to ensure the proper naming and identification of the beneficiaries of your will or other estate planning documents. Similarly, if a charitable gift is made, the estate planning documents must clearly name the intended charity and validate the ability of the charity to accept the gift. These basic facts are highlighted by the recent case of Pritchard v. Attorney General. In Pritchard, a decedent's will attempted to convey certain real estate to a specifically named charitable organization. The executor discovered, however, that the charitable organization was not a legal entity, but an unincorporated association without official status. Therefore, there was no actual entity to which to convey the property. The executor sought instructions from the Probate Court on how to proceed. The Probate Court determined that the attempted gift to the charity failed, and that the property should therefore be distributed to the residuary beneficiaries of the estate. The Appeals Court reversed, relying on the "four corners of the document" and noting that unless the attempted gift was "impossible or impractical," the testator's intent should be honored. The Appeals Court therefore remanded the case back to the Probate Court to determine, among other things, whether the appointment of a trustee was necessary in order to accept title to the property on behalf of the unincorporated charitable organization. As always, identifying these issues at the time of drafting, rather than after the fact, would have saved the estate significant time and expense in resolving the issue.
This article is a general summary only and does not constitute legal advice.