couple-hands-linkedWe’re all familiar with Light My Fire by the Doors.  However, every time I hear that song, I think of both Jim Morrison’s life, which ended too soon, and also the will that he had signed.

Morrison’s one page will was prepared by an attorney in California. Within it, he provided that the majority of his estate would pass to his girlfriend if she survived him by 90 days. She did survive by 90 days, and shortly thereafter, she died, leaving all of her estate to her family.

Jim Morrison’s family was unhappy, to say the least, and they contested the will and attempted to receive a share of the estate, but since Morrison’s will provided for the specific survivorship clause, they were determined not to be legitimate heirs or beneficiaries.

The story is the same whether the decedent is a movie star, rock star, famous athlete, or just an ordinary person. An estate plan should be drafted with the thought of who will take the assets and under what conditions.

If a survivorship clause recites that there must be a 90-day waiting period, then there is no distribution to any heir until the 90 days has elapsed, and in most cases, this is not a problem. If there are significant bills or expenses to pay, the personal representative of the estate may petition the court for authority to pay bills, pending the vesting of the right to inherit. In most cases, the bills are going to be paid in any event, regardless of who the heirs will be when determined at a later date.

When leaving money to a beneficiary, the relationship makes a difference. For instance, if the relationship is a first marriage and there are children of that marriage, a person will probably leave money to their spouse without any survivorship requirement. However, if there is a second marriage, or if a single person is merely leaving funds or assets to friends or other not so close relatives, there may be desire to include a survivorship clause as well as a contingency that if the primary beneficiary does not survive by the allotted time, then the assets will pass to the residue of the estate, to a charity, or be redistributed among other beneficiaries.

Jim Morrison probably anticipated that if his girlfriend survived, she would receive his assets, and he evidently wanted her to have them. The question is whether, had he known that she would die within a short time after the 90 days, would he have made the waiting period longer? Would he have left some money to his family even if his girlfriend survived him by a little more than 90 days?

When leaving funds to any beneficiary, you must always think “what if” the beneficiary is deceased or dies shortly after they receive the assets? If your will has not been updated for some time, it might be smart to re-read it and consider the status of your beneficiaries and who would inherit the funds if they were to die shortly after receipt of your assets. Perhaps it is better to put a contingency in your will or establish a Trust, where the funds will be held and not distributed outright immediately. Naturally, there is no substitute for quality legal advice when preparing and revising estate planning documents.

It is likely that the parents of Jim Morrison’s girlfriend were never the intended beneficiaries under his will, but they certainly reaped the benefits.

Hyman G. Darling, Esq.

Photo credit: Microsoft  

This post originally appeared on Bacon Wilson, P.C.'s blog entitled, "Estate Planning Bits."