Your Legacy in Black and White

Friday, July 10, 2015 | 8:41 pm

Writing a will: it all seems so final, so depressing. We keep putting it off because we just don’t want to face the fact that one day we might not be here. Maybe you think you have plenty of time, that there is no rush. There is always tomorrow, maybe next week.

Experienced lawyer Charles Schofield shares a story about a client of his who had all the right intentions, but ultimately waited too long.

“I’d been talking to this couple for a few of years, encouraging them to get their planning done. It’s especially important in this case because the man and the woman lived together for 25 years and never married.”

After years of pushing the two to get their wills written, the two decided to finally make an appointment after their upcoming trip to Hawaii.

“While they were away, he had some kind of a stroke, he fell into a coma and in a matter of days he was dead.”

Of course, this is an extreme case but it illustrates how uncertain life can be.

“What he did do before going on vacation was he made a handwritten will intending to make a formal one upon his return. In the handwritten will, he left a specific number of things to his girlfriend, but wanted nothing to go to his relatives, except to leave them $1. He also had a brother, although they had been estranged and had not talked with each other for 13 years.”

Sounds like he’s covered, right? Wrong, says Schofield.

“The problem is the handwritten list did not include everything. A typical will would say, ‘And everything else would go to my girlfriend.’ But he didn’t add that and he left out some significant items, like two pieces of real estate in Nevada and some other items of significant value.”

In the end, the handwritten will was legally accepted as his will.

So what happened to those properties? It seems clear through his will that he wanted all his property to go to his girlfriend, even though he didn’t mention each item specifically.

Schofield explains that, according to California law, all unspecified properties go to the next of kin. In this case, that means his brother.

“In the end, the girlfriend got about 60% but the brother [ended up] getting 40% [of the estate] when the will maker only wanted him to get $1.”

There are two lessons here. One is, just like Charles’ client, you can never assume you have enough time. What is the saying? ‘Never leave that till tomorrow what you can do today?’ Charles’ client thought he had time to get his will done.

Sadly, he didn’t.

He wrote his own will, but it was not specific enough. While his intent was to leave everything to his common law wife and nothing to his brother, instead, his brother got more than he bargained for.

Charles Schofield deals with returning clients, some for over thirty years. He also deals with situations and scenarios you would not normally think of.

“I am always coming up with the worst case scenarios and ways to handle those situations, which is very beneficial for estate planning. I think about the things that others don’t necessarily think about.”

So let someone else do the worrying for you—get prepared with an official will and you’ll be able to rest easy, no matter what life brings you.

Schofield and Grossman is located at 201 S. Lake Avenue Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 578-0708 or visit


blog comments powered by Disqus