With 2015 now in the record books, a look back shows just how busy and…
When “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks unexpectedly died Jan. 23, Chicagoans and Cubs fans from coast to coast mourned as if they’d lost a biological family member.
Athletes, broadcasters, sportswriters and people with Twitter consecrated the 83-year-old Banks, who had suffered a fatal heart attack. His statue was moved from Wrigley Field to Daley Plaza, where prayers were said, pictures were taken and wreaths and flowers were laid.
Former teammates, current dignitaries and grieving devotees of the Northside baseball squad attended his memorial service, where the speakers included Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Crowds lined the sidewalks afterward to watch the procession make its way from the church to the ivy-covered ballpark.
But then, like a sudden rain shower on a sunny afternoon at Clark and Addison, the story turned foul Feb. 16: Lawyers for the Banks family revealed that Mr. Cub left everything to his caretaker – and nothing to his family, including his estranged wife.
“Cases like this generally happen when there are already poor family relations. When a family member comes into a crisis situation or dies, it just exacerbates the already existing family dynamics,” says Paul J. Cain, clinical associate professor at the NIU College of Law’s Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic in Rockford.
“If you already have a problem with your children when you get older and infirm and require care, it just brings all this out,” Cain adds. “All the dirty laundry tends to come out after your death.”
Just ask the eldest children of legendary disc jockey Casey Kasem, whose widow had the Michigan-born son of Lebanese immigrants buried late last year in Norway without their knowledge. Or the children of beloved comedian and movie star Robin Williams, who are fighting with his widow not only over his money but his material possessions.
Plan, Cain says, and communicate.
“Advance planning is important. First, you should have discussed with family what your intentions are, and this is especially important for life support in the event you cannot make that decision yourself,” he says.
“You should have the proper legal documents in place – a power of attorney for health care, a power of attorney for property and, depending on what your viewpoint is, a DNR. You should also have a last will and testament, and possibly a trust, depending on the size and complexity of your estate.”
Legal battles over probate can take years, he says.
In the Banks case and others like it, “the issue for the court is, at the time the will or legal document was executed, was there testamentary capacity? Did they know the nature of their assets and their heirs? Was there undue influence involved, or coercion of some form? Was there elder abuse that factors into the change? Were they suffering from dementia?”
Lawyers launch a process of “factual digging,” Cain adds, “talking to neighbors and friends to see if they noticed anything unusual in the relationship between the caretaker and the testator of the will or the principal with power of attorney. They’ll start looking for unusual financial transactions – cash withdrawals that didn’t take place before this caretaker became involved.”
Unfortunately for surviving family members, later wills previously unknown to them trump earlier versions if they were legally executed. (Testators should make sure the execution of the will is properly witnessed, Cain says, adding that it’s “a good idea to videotape a will to better demonstrate testamentary capacity.”)
In the case of two wills, “the only one that is valid, assuming that they were both legally executed, is the more recent,” he says. “And if the estate planning was done well, more often than not, the testator or principal will win those battles.”
Still, the lawyer advises, probate is “something that should be discussed with family.”
“Children don’t have a right to know, but it’s probably a good conversation to have,” Cain says. “Depending on your relationship with your children, it could help avoid problems down the road.”