California baseball fans may have heard that the will of Chicago Cubs baseball great Ernie Banks is the subject of a tumultuous fight in Illinois. Banks, affectionately known as Mr. Cub, died of a heart condition on Jan. 23 at the age of 83.
Banks left his entire estate to a woman who was his talent agent and caregiver, completely excluding his three adult children and estranged wife. However, his family noted that the baseball star's death certificate listed dementia as a "significant condition contributing" to his death. This is relevant because Banks changed his estate plan only three months before he died, signing over his power of attorney, new will, health care directive and trust solely to his caregiver. The Banks children claim that she manipulated their father into changing his will and kept him from talking to his family in the months leading up to his death. An attorney for the Banks family said his children plan to contest the will in court.
Generally, people may bequeath their assets to anyone they wish, whether they are next of kin or not. However, the law requires that the testator be mentally sound and free of undue influence when they prepare and execute their wills and other estate planning documents. The situation potentially becomes sticky when someone with documented dementia alters their estate plan very close to the date of their death. If the beneficiary is in a position of power over the testator, such as in the role of caregiver or business agent, the dispute could become even murkier. In similar situations, the burden of proof may fall to the executors to prove that the estate maker was of sound mind when the will was made.
A will contest of this type could be avoided by making estate plans well before mental competence becomes an issue. An estate planning attorney can provide critical guidance throughout the process.
Source: Forbes Magazine, "Estate of Ernie Banks In Turmoil As Caregiver Claims To Be Sole Heir", Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Feb. 19, 2015