Most individuals who create estate plans (especially more elaborate and personalized estate plans) do so because they do not want their heirs and/or beneficiaries to squabble and fight over distribution of assets once they pass. Unfortunately, this goal is not always achieved. In the recent Ohio case Gehrke v. Senkiw, the testator and grantor’s careful wording of her estate planning documents helped stave off a challenge to her estate plans.
The Testator’s / Grantor’s Careful Choice of Words
In Gehrke, one year prior to her death in 2014 the decedent executed a new will and trust. The terms of the new trust were different than the terms of her previous trust. The 2013 will left the decedent’s assets to the trust, and the 2013 trust left part of the decedent’s estate to her nephew Gehrke for his use and benefit during his lifetime. Shortly after creating the new trust, the decedent executed an amendment to the trust that did away with her nephew’s, Gehrke’s, distribution and instead gave her assets to various friends and institutions. All this occurred around the time that the decedent’s overall health and, more specifically, her mental health began to deteriorate significantly.
When crafting her will and trust, the trust specifically incorporated and made reference to the will. After the decedent passed but within two years of her passing, Gehrke filed an action to challenge the 2013 trust and amendment, claiming that the grantor/decedent lacked the requisite mental capacity when she executed the 2013 trust and its amendment.
Time Limitations Applicable to the Dispute
By the time the challenge to the trust had been filed, the appropriate time period for challenging the admission of the will to probate had passed. Gehrke argued that his dispute was governed by the general, two-year statute of limitations applicable to challenges to revocable trusts and their amendments. The Ohio appellate court disagreed, however, finding that because the 2013 trust made reference to and incorporated the 2013 will, Gehrke’s challenge to the trust was also a de facto challenge of the will. Because the time period for challenging the will had passed before Gehrke filed his challenge, his case should be dismissed.
The Lesson to be Learned
The court’s decision in Gehrke suggested that if the validity of the trust could have been challenged without examining or deciding the validity of the decedent’s will, then Gehrke’s claim may have been able to proceed. Thanks to language tying the will and trust together (and a little luck in timing), the decedent’s wishes were respected and the beneficiaries were saved a lengthy court battle.
Ohio residents needing assistance in creating or updating their estate plan need look no further than the Law Office of John C. Grundy for assistance. We take the time to understand your needs and estate planning goals and then craft the documents you need to achieve those goals. Contact us at (330) 637-9030 or online and see how an estate plan drafted by an experienced Ohio attorney can help give you and your heirs or beneficiaries peace of mind.