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Why It’s Often Best to Reference Lifetime Transfers in Your Will

Lifetime transfers between adults can take place under many different types of circumstances. Unfortunately, they often create complications within a family, especially if they occur when one adult sibling is helping an aging parent meet special caregiving needs.                                  The following example helps to explain the types of issues that can arise when lifetime transfers are made – although they can also occur when everyone involved is in good health. Hypothetical Family Scenario Involving Lifetime Transfers               

Assume that an aging father named Arthur has three adult children named Ariel, Margaret and William. After Arthur’s health seriously declines following a stroke, Margaret and her teenage daughter move into her father’s home so she can act as his daily caregiver. Arthur is grateful to Margaret and tells her that in addition to the small monthly stipend he’s paying for her help, he wants to help her out extra now because of all that she’s doing – although he wants all large gifts later subtracted from her share of his estate upon his death.    

Arthur’s will indicates that when he dies, all of his property and possessions must be split evenly between his three children. Assume that one year into her duties, Margaret asks her father to pay off $20,000 of her back debts and to buy her daughter Becky, Arthur’s only granddaughter, a used car for $15,000 upon graduation. Arthur does both favors.                                                                        

Six months later when Arthur dies, Ariel and William contest their father’s will, noting that he had acknowledged his lifetime transfers made to Margaret and that he wanted them subtracted from Margaret’s one-third share of his estate. However, Arthur never formally updated his will to reflect those intentions.

Unfortunately, this type of scenario often unfolds in families following poorly documented lifetime transfers of cash or property. Advances like those noted above are often just accepted as outright gifts and the recipients claim they’re still entitled to inherit per the terms of the person’s existing will.                                                                                                                               

In order to avoid later challenges to a will due to alleged lifetime transfers to one or more relatives, here are some key reminders.                                                                                  

Use Your Best Business Judgment When Accepting Lifetime Transfers

  • If you’re a caregiver, consider asking your aging parent to place all of their assets in a trust and have it administered by a neutral party. When a trustee is in charge of covering specific “necessities” like mortgage payments, rent, food and medical care for someone, they must keep accurate records regarding all funds spent. These can later be used to rebut any family claims that a caregiver (or other family member) received special gifts or sums of money;

  • Be open with other family members about what is taking place. Unfortunately, when adult children get into financial jams, they frequently ask a parent to help them and their spouse or children out with a private loan. Once such loans are discovered by others, serious legal battles can later ensue, especially once a parent dies;

  • If a parent or other party intends to make a lifetime transfer, make sure that person clearly states that in his or her will. Such changes should ideally be documented in a will within 30 days of making the transfer “or acknowledged in a writing signed by the recipient at any time.” (See Georgia Statutes, Title 53, and Chapter 1; Article 2 “Advancements.”)

As many Georgia probate attorneys can tell you, this type of formality is often overlooked. However, it’s critical to formalize the making of special gifts – otherwise claims of undue influence may later be alleged – and possibly prevail.

Should you ever receive a lifetime transfer from any relative – try to legally document what has transpired so that there won’t be any later courtroom battles over the estate.

To obtain help with satisfying all of your Georgia general estate planning needs, please contact the Law Offices of Shane Smith today.  You can schedule your free initial consultation with a knowledgeable Peachtree City estate planning attorney by calling: (770) 487-8999.


Shane Smith
Advocate for the Seriously Injured in Georgia