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Cat Fight Over Handwritten Will

What happens if the testator forgot to name beneficiary in handwritten will?

Since February of this year, a ‘cat fight’ of epic proportions has been unfolding in the quaint North Carolina coastal community of Ocean Isle.  On February 14, 2019, Ocean Isle cat-lover, Margaret Taylor died leaving a handwritten will.  The will named a local animal rescue group, Paws-Ability as executor of her estate.  In then went on to say that if the beneficiary of the estate was no longer operating at the time of her death, her estate would then go to her next-door neighbors. 

Now there’s a big problem here.  Being named as executor of an estate is not the same things as being named as beneficiary.  As the word indicates, being a beneficiary carries with it certain benefits, while being executor carries burdens and responsibilities.  The executor is the person or entity charged with collecting the assets of the person who died, paying any outstanding bills or taxes and distributing the assets of the estate to the beneficiaries.

The problem with Ms. Taylor’s will is that while she may have intended to name Paws-Ability as both her beneficiary and executor, she actually only named it to be executor.  Since no other beneficiary was named, the neighbors asked the court to interpret the will and to rule that they are in fact the sole beneficiaries and entitled to the entire estate.  After months of expensive litigation, that’s exactly what the court has done.

The court ruled that the will must be enforced as written.  The will, which was handwritten by Ms. Taylor approximately eight months before her death named Paws-Ability as executor, not beneficiary.  Even though Ms. Taylor was a cat-lover and a Paws-Ability volunteer, that wasn’t good enough for the court.  Moreover, even though it is apparent on the face of the document that she forgot to name the principal beneficiary and even though it might be fair to guess that it would have been Paws-Ability, the court simply decided that it couldn’t rewrite the will.  Ms. Taylor did name a beneficiary, and it was the neighbors, not Paws-Ability.

Don't Make the Same Mistake

There are more than a few lessons here.  First, get help from a lawyer in drafting a will if at all possible.  Second, if you can’t do that for one reason or another, at least proofread your will and make sure that it says what you meant to say and that you didn’t leave out something important – like who you want to receive all of your worldly possessions after you die.  Finally, if you or a loved one are named in a will and you think there’s something the matter with it, or if it doesn’t make sense, ask for help.  Call a lawyer at Obenshain Law Group with experience in interpreting wills and if necessary, in litigating will disputes so that you have all of the help you need.  Don’t let the “cat get your tongue.” Contact us today.

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