Thursday, December 25, 2014

A thorny problem for an executor

DEAR HARRY: A friend of mine died last week. I agreed to be the executor of his will, and he did name me. I never saw the will before he died, so I had no way of knowing what it contained.

He was a widower and left no children or siblings. Everything was to go to a list of charitable organizations with a small bequest to me in lieu of an executor's fee. The problem is that one of the charities listed was an organization he hated. He even wrote letters to editors of newspapers clearly indicating his feelings. The last letter I'm aware of was as recently as March of this year. It's impossible to know how it got in there because the lawyer who drew up the will died a few years ago.

Before I make the distribution and get him spinning in his grave, is there a way out?

WHAT HARRY SAYS: That's a tough one! Once the testator has died, the will "gets carved in stone." I see one possibility, and that is to go to court to try to get a judge to allow the change. You'll need a barrel of evidence, including those letters to the editors. Backup data for his 1040s should indicate that he never donated to that organization before. Even with all of that, it is still possible that he wanted to make that bequest for some unknown reason. A remote possibility is that his lawyer or the lawyer's secretary "slipped it in there" without his knowledge. I don't have high hopes that you'll win. This is a lesson for all of us to read any documents carefully before we sign.


Email Harry Gross at harrygrossDN@gmail.com, or

write to him at Daily News, 801 Market St., Philadelphia, PA 19107. Harry urges all his readers to give blood. Contact the American Red Cross at 800-Red Cross.

Harry Gross Daily News Personal Finance Columnist
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