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Interesting Case on How Not to Revoke Your Living Trust

The recent case of Estate of Stoker, decided in a California Appellate Court, involved an interesting way one person revoked his living trust.

Steven Stoker signed a will in 1997 in which he left the bulk of his estate to the Steven Stoker Revocable Trust, which he created at the same time as his will. His girlfriend Destiny Gularte was named the successor trustee and the beneficiary.

Several years later, Steven and his girlfriend had an argument and separated permanently. Steven did not do anything to formally amend or revoke his trust. He did however have a friend write out a new will which Steven dictated and signed, revoking his 1997 will and leaving everything to his two children, not the girlfriend. Steven signed the will in front of two witnesses but did not have them sign the document. He then urinated on his original will of 1997 and set it on fire.

When Steven died, a probate judge had to decide which will was valid, ie. had the 2005 will revoked the 1997 will and trust? The judge allowed extrinsic evidence to determine whether Steven had the intent to revoke his prior trust. He heard testimony from the witnesses and ruled that the later 2005 will expressed Steven’s actual wishes even though it lacked witness signatures.

This case highlights two points:
1. Make sure you amend your will or trust when circumstances change. If you get a divorce or separate from someone you named in your will or trust, it’s time to make revisions to your estate plan. Likewise, if someone you named as a beneficiary has died, you may also want to make changes.

2. Once you decide you want to make changes to your estate planning documents, call an experienced estate planning attorney to help you execute the appropriate documents. What Steven Stoker did is not recommended.

If you want to make changes to your will or trust or want to revoke such documents in favor of new estate planning documents, you want to do it in an appropriate manner. The estate planning lawyers at Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation can help you with that or any other estate planning concerns.

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