Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

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mouth
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Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by mouth »

Hello all and thanks in advance for any thoughts / advice.

As the subject says, my dad wants to leave his house to myself and my sister upon his death, but for his wife to live in it until her death. The estate should also pay the property taxes. In general principal I have no problem with any of that (it's his house, so sure whatever). But as I have thought about it some more, and given other statements he's made I have concerns. Some detials ...

- Dad is in his mid 70's, Wife is same-ish. He's in average health considering a quad-bypass 7 years ago plus knee and hip replacements. She's fairly obese but also has a mother that lived into her late 90's I think. My sister and I get along with wife, no drama there. But we're not that close either given the marriage is only about 10 year old and we both live very far away so contact is minimal.

- I'm 48, sister is 56

- Dad is revising his will to codify the detail he's told me verbally several times over the years. That, he wants his wife to live in the house until she passes. Meanwhile the house and it's contents pass to myself and sister upon his passing and we are to pay the property taxes from the estate during that time.

He's asked me to comment on the revised changes. They are literally parenthetical and, if truly the only changes to the document, worryingly sparse. But it gets worse.

- Dad is adamant (verbally many many times) that her son never live in the house. There's history there. Let's just say wife's son never fully cut the cord nor held a steady job. He's about my age, maybe a few older. I've met him like 3 times. Whatever, I don't judge but it sets the stage for my concerns and honoring my father's wishes while trying to avoid drama in my life.

Playing the What-If game I've already asked my father a few things (with gentler wording than below):

- nothing in the will describes what happens if she moves out vs passes. That leaves a limbo state where she moves out, hasn't died, the house is "vacant", and the letter of his will could be construed to say I can't sell the house. This to me is an important but minor issue which can be easily fixed. But what really has me worried ...

- To fullfill his wishes I am now in the position of having to police her son, take action, and worry about the consequences should he decide to damage the house / empty of it's contents. While I'm policing wife's son, wife will surely be going through a traumatic event as I am effectively needing to evict her son!

- And what if the reason he's living there is because she is understandably no longer able to take care of herself? Now what? Sure I could just accept it ignoring Dad's wishes but even then ...

- When she passes, because I really won't have any contact with her (much like now), it could be weeks, months, or longer before I'm aware. At best the house is unoccupied. At worst it's emptied / trashed by the son. Truth be told I don't think he's like that, but he's certainly irresponsible, the house will be vulnerable for however long it is before I'm made aware that she's passed, and if I've previously had to kick him out ... who knows.

The actual email I sent my father pointed out some of the above (again, "softer"), highlighted that my goals are to honor his intentions that his wife have a place to live, but also not putting us all at risk of some very uncomfortable situations that would end up running counter to his prime directive.

And those are just the things I thought of. What other "what ifs" am I missing?

More to the purpose of this post: what experience, guidance, suggestions, might anyone have? I suggested in my email that we could talk more about this, and that his attorney might have some suggestions about how to deal with any/all of these concerns to include some version where the house becomes hers (sold?) to avoid the entire situation.

If it matters at all, the house is worth probably $335k and is likely, maybe, I assume a few years from being paid off if not fully paid off. Neither sister nor myself have any desire live in the house, or even the area of the house. Golf course communities are NOT our scene and never will be.

I'll close with, I personally don't need the money from the house. I could gift it to her just to get it out of my life. My sister isn't nearly that well settled, and I am also having to consider HER own long term health-care needs by her own request that we "have a talk" about her failing memory.

Thanks for reading this far. Thank you even more if you have any sage advise or important questions to be asked.
helloeveryone
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by helloeveryone »

Not too much to add/recommend but kudos to you for 1) wanting to honor your dad's wishes 2) thinking through some of the complexities as in his mind it would appear to be a very simple request.

I agree that having a lawyer with estate planning experience be engaged in this. Perhaps others on the forum have similar experiences and will leave better ideas.

Also - email is not the easiest way for you to outline your concerns and him to understand where you're coming from. A phone call may be better, also, once he and you have spoken - a three way discussion with his spouse will likely be helpful as well (or not if he doesn't want her to know she's not "getting" the house.
sport
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by sport »

It would seem to be a lot easier for everyone if the house is sold upon Dad's demise and the estate pays for an apartment for his wife as long as she is alive. That way what she does with her son does not affect you in any way. The estate would also be relived of taxes and maintenance for the house.
e5116
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by e5116 »

My grandfather had this same wish, but in the end, his wife passed away before him so it was all moot. Not sure how it was written...I guess that's not too helpful, but just providing another data point of someone who wished something similar but it didn't come to pass.
rebellovw
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by rebellovw »

"- To fullfill his wishes I am now in the position of having to police her son, take action, and worry about the consequences should he decide to damage the house / empty of it's contents. While I'm policing wife's son, wife will surely be going through a traumatic event as I am effectively needing to evict her son!"

I wouldn't do that - I'd just say - "Yeah - sure pop - I'll do my best..." - but I'm not going to dictate who can and cannot stay with her - it is none of my business what she does in her privacy. This would avoid your traumatic event. Parents have all kinds of drama - you don't have to get caught up in it. I never did.

Let that grudge die with him - you and your sister don't need to inherit it.
Last edited by rebellovw on Tue Jun 15, 2021 10:40 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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LilyFleur
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by LilyFleur »

sport wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 10:18 pm It would seem to be a lot easier for everyone if the house is sold upon Dad's demise and the estate pays for an apartment for his wife as long as she is alive. That way what she does with her son does not affect you in any way. The estate would also be relived of taxes and maintenance for the house.
It is not easier for a widow to have to move out of her home and into an apartment while grieving the death of her husband, especially if she is worn out from the burden of caring for him during a period of illness and hospice.

Second marriages, with two sets of children, and two sets of assets (many times very unevenly matched), can be problematic for the heirs.

A second marriage does, though, relieve the children of much of the burden of care if it is their parent who is requires care and dies first. It seems like this new wife has taken care of their dad through several health issues already.
mevans154
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by mevans154 »

Wow! Reading your post was almost identical to what happened to me and my brother with my father.

My mother passed away in 1999 from breast cancer. My father started dating a friend that he knew for years and she was a widow as her husband died in 1997. They dated and lived together in my father’s house for 15 years and then my father at 74 years old decides he wants to get married again.
My father was married for about 3 years before his he had a heart attack and passed away in 2017.

His house was left to my brother and me, and our instructions regarding his second wife was to “do the right thing” by her.
So we let her live there for free for a year and then gave her the following options:
1. She could buy the house at the “friends and family” discount price. (~$250K)
2. She could rent the house from my brother and me for a VERY cheap rate (basically just to cover our cost of owning the house)
3. She could move out as we were going to sell the house.

She chose option 3 and moved back home with her 90 year old mother.

You mentioned about paying the property taxes with the estate funds, but there are a lot more expenses in owning the house.
1. Who is going to pay the utility bill, phone bill, etc.?
2. You will need homeowners insurance on the house?
3. Is there an association fee?
4. If there is a need for a major repair (water heater, roof, appliances, etc) who will pay?

I don’t know what your father’s estate is worth, but you may be looking at $10s of thousands of dollars of liability to honor your father’s wishes. All this has to be figured out beforehand so there are no misunderstandings down the road.

Good luck!
Last edited by mevans154 on Tue Jun 15, 2021 10:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Lee_WSP
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by Lee_WSP »

As you have surmised, a life estate in real estate is problematic for blended families. He probably doesn't have anything else to offset the life estate and still wants to leave you with an inheritance.

There really isn't anything else that doesn't come with the same or similar issues. However, I'd suggest putting it in trust and allowing step mom to live in the house in that manner. It'll give more flexibility than a simple life estate.
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tyrion
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by tyrion »

Not an identical situation, but pretty close.

I'm about your age. My dad was in his 70s. His wife was early late 50s, early 60s.

Instead of allowing her to stay in the house forever, the trust allowed her to stay for I think 9 months. Then it was to be split between her, me, and my sister. Due to some extenuating circumstances, and then COVID, we all agreed to extend things for longer. In the end the house was sold with minimal drama.

If there are assets besides the house it might make sense for you and your sister to inherit something other than the house, and then the house could be left to the wife.

Or if that's not the case, perhaps a defined time period could be used like we did. I believe it was at the recommendation of the estate attorney.
hachiko
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by hachiko »

First, you should definitely have a lawyer helping with the drafting and be sending the questions to the lawyer.

With respect to the drafting issue, if what you described in the description is correct, that's exactly what happens for the wife, she owns it throughout her life whether she lives there or not. A "life tenancy." As long as she's alive, you and your sister only have rights to the house as they would affect your ultimate ownership rights to the property.

I would pay close attention to how they're drafting the restriction around your wife's son. There may be a way where the mom has to police the son. So if the mom lets the son live there, she automatically loses her rights to the property and they revert back to you and your sister in full. But if it's worded another way you may have to affirmatively act to obtain all the rights to the property (I think the wording is something like right of reentry), which sounds like it's not something you want.

I don't really know how you could write it another way where somehow you're in charge of monitoring whether the son lives there. There would have to be someone that would take your ownership rights.

You should ask the lawyer "what are the consequences if the son lives there" and make sure the answer is in line with what your dad wants.
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leeks
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by leeks »

Who is going to take responsibility for the stepmom's health care and finances if she outlives your dad and becomes incapacitated or just needs some help? Who would hire and manage in-home care providers or find her a nursing home if needed? Who would take power of attorney?

If it will be her son, then him moving in might make sense. Getting him out after she passes away and you want to sell the house could be hard though. No easy answer there.

If she would not want her son to do this, is she expecting you or your sister would? Who else does she have? Is your dad trying to set it up to force you to do this?

I agree phone or in person is better than email to really talk this through. Ask him to talk with her to think through the question of who would manage her care if needed.
texasdiver
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by texasdiver »

If it were me?

Tell Dad to leave the house to his wife and pass some other inheritance on to you. There is WAY too much trouble here to get involved with.

Personally I'd rather get a small $25,000 clean and clear cash inheritance than this mess of a house that you may not see for 15 years. And for which you will be responsible for in every way (taxes, maintenance, repairs, insurance, etc. etc. etc.) until she passes.

And don't get involved with policing where the wife's son lives. There is going to be absolutely nothing good to be gained by you carrying on your father's personal grudge after he is in the grave. I get the sense that one of the main reasons he is even getting you involved in this mess is because he wants you to carry on his personal grudge with the son and doesn't trust his wife to do it on her own.
vested1
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by vested1 »

texasdiver wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 1:11 am If it were me?

Tell Dad to leave the house to his wife and pass some other inheritance on to you. There is WAY too much trouble here to get involved with.

Personally I'd rather get a small $25,000 clean and clear cash inheritance than this mess of a house that you may not see for 15 years. And for which you will be responsible for in every way (taxes, maintenance, repairs, insurance, etc. etc. etc.) until she passes.

And don't get involved with policing where the wife's son lives. There is going to be absolutely nothing good to be gained by you carrying on your father's personal grudge after he is in the grave. I get the sense that one of the main reasons he is even getting you involved in this mess is because he wants you to carry on his personal grudge with the son and doesn't trust his wife to do it on her own.
I didn't see the word "grudge" used by the OP. Maybe neither you nor the previous member who used that word ever had to deal with a toxic relative. I have one who considers everything anyone owns in the family to be his. His only reason for coming around is to find something to steal. He has never held a steady job and is in his mid 70's now. When my father died he showed up the next day and said he was sure my dad had wanted him to have my dad's truck. He didn't get the truck and he didn't come to the funeral. None of us hold a grudge against him, but neither do we allow him to rip us off whenever he feels like it.

If I were the OP I would sit down with a lawyer to address these issues. IMHO he could also consider ceding his interest in the house to his sister after his father passes. I say after he passes because he should honor his father's wishes by letting him think that he is providing equally for his offspring. My brother and I ceded our interest in our parent's house after they died, signing over ownership to our two sisters, who had been less fortunate with their career income than we had been.
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by sean.mcgrath »

mouth wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 9:33 pm Hello all and thanks in advance for any thoughts / advice.

As the subject says, my dad wants to leave his house to myself and my sister upon his death, but for his wife to live in it until her death. The estate should also pay the property taxes. In general principal I have no problem with any of that (it's his house, so sure whatever). But as I have thought about it some more, and given other statements he's made I have concerns. Some detials ...
I can't give any advice, but can tell you what we did in a similar situation with my FIL. All three kids basically said he should do as he wanted as it's his house. I mentioned that I question having to clean out the house potentially in our 70s (or even 80s), and being responsible for upkeep for decades. I also pointed out that it was a large house for one elderly person. My wife decided to share the concerns with her father, and he changed his mind to her living in the house for three years (she was also fine with this). His real concern was that she not be faced with anything dramatic on short notice.

I will give one piece of advice after all. I would be very clear that he will have no way of ensuring that the son does not move in, as you are in no position to play policeman.
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mouth
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by mouth »

Thanks Sean. Yeah that last bit is my concern. I would in all likelihood just not play the policeman and I want him to think about that at least. Everything else is sort of predicated on that.

Thanks again.

EDIT: wow for some reason when I opened the thread it popped to the last, Sean's, post and I thought it was the only one. Thank you everyone for your responses. I have some questions / thoughts / additional info I'll add when I have time. For sure I've seen some things I hadn't thought of yet and that's why this forum is awesome! :sharebeer
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by whereskyle »

mouth wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 9:33 pm Hello all and thanks in advance for any thoughts / advice.

As the subject says, my dad wants to leave his house to myself and my sister upon his death, but for his wife to live in it until her death. The estate should also pay the property taxes. In general principal I have no problem with any of that (it's his house, so sure whatever). But as I have thought about it some more, and given other statements he's made I have concerns. Some detials ...

- Dad is in his mid 70's, Wife is same-ish. He's in average health considering a quad-bypass 7 years ago plus knee and hip replacements. She's fairly obese but also has a mother that lived into her late 90's I think. My sister and I get along with wife, no drama there. But we're not that close either given the marriage is only about 10 year old and we both live very far away so contact is minimal.

- I'm 48, sister is 56

- Dad is revising his will to codify the detail he's told me verbally several times over the years. That, he wants his wife to live in the house until she passes. Meanwhile the house and it's contents pass to myself and sister upon his passing and we are to pay the property taxes from the estate during that time.

He's asked me to comment on the revised changes. They are literally parenthetical and, if truly the only changes to the document, worryingly sparse. But it gets worse.

- Dad is adamant (verbally many many times) that her son never live in the house. There's history there. Let's just say wife's son never fully cut the cord nor held a steady job. He's about my age, maybe a few older. I've met him like 3 times. Whatever, I don't judge but it sets the stage for my concerns and honoring my father's wishes while trying to avoid drama in my life.

Playing the What-If game I've already asked my father a few things (with gentler wording than below):

- nothing in the will describes what happens if she moves out vs passes. That leaves a limbo state where she moves out, hasn't died, the house is "vacant", and the letter of his will could be construed to say I can't sell the house. This to me is an important but minor issue which can be easily fixed. But what really has me worried ...

- To fullfill his wishes I am now in the position of having to police her son, take action, and worry about the consequences should he decide to damage the house / empty of it's contents. While I'm policing wife's son, wife will surely be going through a traumatic event as I am effectively needing to evict her son!

- And what if the reason he's living there is because she is understandably no longer able to take care of herself? Now what? Sure I could just accept it ignoring Dad's wishes but even then ...

- When she passes, because I really won't have any contact with her (much like now), it could be weeks, months, or longer before I'm aware. At best the house is unoccupied. At worst it's emptied / trashed by the son. Truth be told I don't think he's like that, but he's certainly irresponsible, the house will be vulnerable for however long it is before I'm made aware that she's passed, and if I've previously had to kick him out ... who knows.

The actual email I sent my father pointed out some of the above (again, "softer"), highlighted that my goals are to honor his intentions that his wife have a place to live, but also not putting us all at risk of some very uncomfortable situations that would end up running counter to his prime directive.

And those are just the things I thought of. What other "what ifs" am I missing?

More to the purpose of this post: what experience, guidance, suggestions, might anyone have? I suggested in my email that we could talk more about this, and that his attorney might have some suggestions about how to deal with any/all of these concerns to include some version where the house becomes hers (sold?) to avoid the entire situation.

If it matters at all, the house is worth probably $335k and is likely, maybe, I assume a few years from being paid off if not fully paid off. Neither sister nor myself have any desire live in the house, or even the area of the house. Golf course communities are NOT our scene and never will be.

I'll close with, I personally don't need the money from the house. I could gift it to her just to get it out of my life. My sister isn't nearly that well settled, and I am also having to consider HER own long term health-care needs by her own request that we "have a talk" about her failing memory.

Thanks for reading this far. Thank you even more if you have any sage advise or important questions to be asked.
Been privy to a similar situation. You are correct about its incredible, years-long downsides, headaches, and overall misery.

The answer is to simply leave the house to her outright or to provide a cash payment to her.

You are absolutely right that this right-to-live-in situation with specific conditions while the estate pays taxes is a years-long burden on you. It will also cause stress for your dad's wife. Make sure your dad knows that neither you nor his other heirs have any interest in the house and you want him to simply leave the house to her so you don't have to worry about it or deal with it. Honesty is the best policy.
"I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know." - Socrates. "Nobody knows nothing." - Jack Bogle
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by Jack FFR1846 »

I would expect that the attorney isn't going to let the "brother and sister pay for house expenses" portion. That isn't leaving assets to you, it's leaving you debts. It also won't fly to pay these expenses out of the estate. If the wife lives for 30 years, what happens with the estate? Stays open for 30 years? I don't think so. What makes more sense and what the attorney would likely propose is that a trust be set up to pay house expenses with you and your sister as beneficiaries once the wife dies. That will be somewhat expensive, but that's the breaks. If there's going to be a "son can't live there" clause, then the trust needs to pay for a private investigator to periodically check on the son to be sure he's not living in the house. If he is, then there should be a clause in the will or trust (I don't know, do I look like a lawyer?) that triggers a sale of the house and throwing out of everyone living in the house.

In the end, it would be far cleaner for the house to be sold and an amount of money left to the wife and an amount of money left to you and your sister. There's nothing then hanging over your head, no police requirement, no trust cost, no private investigator cost.
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bottlecap
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by bottlecap »

You can’t keep the son out of the house. It sounds like the wife should be given a life estate of some kind. That might minimize your responsibilities. You’d need to speak to a lawyer.

Good luck,

JT
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JonnyDVM
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by JonnyDVM »

I think it is fortunate that your dad is discussing this with you while he is still alive rather than having to hash all this out as a surprise after he passes. I think a firm “I won’t be able to do that dad, I won’t be living there” in regards to the son situation might get him rethinking this whole thing.

If dad won’t budge I would consider an arrangement where you and sister inherit the house immediately but allow stepmother to live there until her passing at a rent that covers expenses if father isn’t planning on providing expenses from the rest of his estate.
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by ImUrHuckleberry »

My Grandfather left his house to my dad and his siblings with the stipulation that his wife (not their mom) could live there until she either chose to move out or died. This worked out totally fine, and she died about 5 years after him, at which point they sold the house and split the proceeds.
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by pennywise »

vested1 wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 4:50 am
I didn't see the word "grudge" used by the OP. Maybe neither you nor the previous member who used that word ever had to deal with a toxic relative.
That misses the point--whether or not the stepmother's son is toxic is or should be HER problem, not the OP's which is what OP's father is attempting to make it.

OP is entirely correct to be alarmed at being placed in what is almost certainly an impossible situation of 'policing' someone's life based on a piece of property.

Blended families and remarriages can make for some pretty twisted estate planning. Here's our story:

My father was married three times: widowed after long happy marriage, then divorced then another happy marriage of 20+ years (I know, some guys can't be alone). His third wife was a professional with her own resources; they basically kept finances separate except for the house which he had bought prior to marrying her and to which her name was added on the deed at some point. Each partner had adult children; my siblings and I were from his first marriage.

They wrote their wills specifying that if she died first, my father was required to have the house appraised for market value as of that date. At the time of his death, remarriage or the sale of the house half of that sum was to be inherited by her children.

She died 5 years ago, and to wrap up this how it started/how it's going tale, my dad has lived alone in the house since then and just entered an ALF due to dementia. He has plenty of resources to support himself for as long it takes without selling the place. House value has increased of course especially in this crazy hot market so at some point when we sell it we will be giving stepmother's kids their share, which will come to substantially less than half of the current value.

As one of HIS kids, it irked us and still does to be divvying out a share of what was literally his investment but having read stories like this one it makes some sense to me now. Actually, I should ask my sister who is the executor what would have happened to the house if HE died first...I have no idea what they set up for that contingency.
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StevieG72
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by StevieG72 »

These thinks can go sideways. My father in-law left his house to his 3 kids with the stipulation that the current wife can live there until she passes.

I am not sure how the ownership transferred after his death, but the wife took out equity loans on the home. Upon her passing there was very little if any equity in the home along with bills relating to taxes, utilities etc.

We chose to decline the inheritance and paid a lawyer to handle the official paperwork.

As far as your situation, while it may very well be prudent for your dad to insist the son does not live in the home, is that practical to enforce? Is it fair to his exwife? Does she support this stipulation?
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ILnative
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by ILnative »

Very similar situation with my FIL. Everyone is still alive - but we told him when he was trying to set up a convoluted trust where his wife got to live in the house upon his death until her death - we basically told him if he set up anything where we had to continue to monitor property that we didn't live in nor could dispose of - we just would not participate. We think he went ahead and set up the trust this way, but if dies and this is indeed how he set it up - we just will walk away from whatever inheritance that might provide and he knows this. We have no problem with his new wife - but don't want to be tied to her or a piece of property 2 states away upon his death. (and she has kids of her own that are fully functional and her own money)

One other thing to watch out for and that we were trying to counsel him on (but I don't think he listened). Some types of trusts like this when set up while the person is still living cause problems for possibly qualifying for Medicaid in the future - and I can't remember all the details but because property is technically being transferred while the person is still alive that can cause Medicaid issues. Sorry I can't be more specific - its been a couple years since this all was being discussed.
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by fourwheelcycle »

OP's father wants to accomplish too many objectives with his house when he dies - leave an inheritance to two children, provide for his surviving wife, and prevent her son from living in the house. OP should point out his concerns to his father, but OP should not engage an attorney to help solve this problem. Father's will is father's prerogative, not son's or daughter's. If, after son points out concerns, father dies (before wife) with will that provides de facto life estate in house for wife, with provision her son shall not live there, all to be financed and policed by father's son and daughter, son should disclaim his share of house inheritance.

Ideally, his sister should do the same, but that will be her call. If sister does not disclaim, the amount of actual inheritance she may ultimately realize from the house, offset by the cost, effort, and anxiety she will face trying to follow the provisions of her father's will, may be minimal.

With house, stepmother, and stepbrother issues out of the way, OP can focus on caring for himself and his sister as they age.
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by Ramjet »

Regarding the wife's son, tell Dad you will do the best you can. I don't think you need to "police" anything at a high level
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michaeljc70
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by michaeljc70 »

I think your father should be telling his wife that her son isn't welcome in the house (after his passing) rather than putting that on you. As you pointed out, there is really no practical way for you to enforce it especially living far away.
fortunefavored
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by fortunefavored »

Been there done that, for 10+ years.

First and most important, and I will use the rare BOLD tag: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, ALLOW THIS TO BE DRAFTED AS A LIFE ESTATE AND IT SHOULD BE SPECIFICALLY EXCLUDED IN THE WILL.

You can google the nightmares of life estates and the poor remainderman (you) who gets totally screwed by this.

So, if your father is set on this path, what you want to do is have the house passed to you, with NO restrictions. In other words, you entirely own the house to whatever you want with. Then your father expresses his INTENT in the will, that you allow her to live there as long as you reasonably can. That way if situations change (yours or hers or whatever) you can still do what you need to do without being bound by law.

Yes, this requires he trusts you to "do the right thing" - if he does not, I agree with others in this thread that some other alternative should be picked.
WillRetire
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by WillRetire »

OP: To attempt to enforce father's wishes that wife's son not live there, you could include a restriction in the rental contract that specifies the terms & conditions of the father's wife's (free) rental. The restriction needn't name the son outright, but prohibits anyone but the named tenant living there.

I would insist on a rental contract regardless. Ts&Cs. Who pays the utilities, yard maintenance, snow shoveling? And state standard requirements on the renter to promptly inform owner of repair issues or damage to the property, or be liable for them.

You need to protect yourself legally as a landlord. The way to do that is with a contract if/when the time comes.
2cents2
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by 2cents2 »

I can understand your Dad’s dilemma- he wants to provide for your step mother and his children. If he leaves it to your step mom outright, her son will most likely inherit the house after she passes.

I totally understand your dilemma, too.

Question- is your Dad setting this up as a life estate for your step Mom (and specifics as to who is responsible for which expenses/trust?) or will you and your sister inherit the house and this is an informal arrangement (like an instruction letter outside of the will)?

Would your Dad feel comfortable sharing his will with you so you could see how this is all supposed to work? How does your Dad see this unfolding?

I think I would have problems with the life estate part unless there was a well funded trust to back up all the potential expenses (let alone the part that seems unenforceable to me.) Your Dad mentioned property taxes. Is there a mortgage? What about repairs? Or a potential lien on the property? Or, liability issues from owning the property?
What if your step Mom needs money for care as she ages? Or, the house is not appropriate for her to get around in as she ages?
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goingup
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by goingup »

I like how my dad handled this with his wife. She got the paid-off house and his pension. Investible assets divided among us siblings. He wanted to provide well for her. It was perfect because everyone went their separate ways after the funeral. Very little friction, which was what he was aiming for.

He was a great planner and had no illusions of dictating from the grave.
Nowizard
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by Nowizard »

The psychological issues are the care of his wife from his perspective, though she could predecease him. Exploration of that issue with him may reveal there are a variety of alternatives that have fewer possibilities for conflict later of both psychological and financial proportions. Personally, I would want to know the degree to which there are issues such as his wife living alone, in a senior facility, etc. or whether it is more of an issue of a caring husband preparing for his presumed demise before hers. In short, there are more issues here than financial ones, though they are significant.

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Meg77
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by Meg77 »

I haven't read all the responses, but this is a VERY typical and normal arrangement. She will simply have a "life estate" in the home which stipulates that she must actually live there and pay taxes and insurance and maintenance. When she dies - or moves out - the life estate is dissolved and the owners can sell, move in or rent the place out as they see fit.

Of course you would know if/when she dies because as the owner of the property you should do periodic checks to make sure it's occupied and well taken care of and that the bills are paid. Somewhat similar to a landlord/tenant relationship, you would have some rights if she were to totally abandon the terms of the life estate - including not keeping it up. Obviously evicting your ex-stepmother wouldn't be simple or advisable, but my point is you'd have options and also obligations as the owner.

As for her son, that's a tricky one. I don't think your dad has the right to dictate whether his wife takes on a roommate - or lover or houseguest or caretaker. Even if he tries to put that in the will, it's going to be impossible for you to monitor or to enforce that kind of clause. It's kind of like giving the silver set to you but saying your husband can't use it - whatever, lol. You can try to put parameters on gifts from beyond the grave, but without expensive trusts and diligent enforcers who love being mired in the legal system, it's all just words on a page at the end of thday.
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Shallowpockets
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by Shallowpockets »

Simply tell your father not to include the house to be bequeathed to you at all. Do not be on that paperwork at all. Then all those onerous and unpredictable results or concerns will not happen. At least not as far as you would be concerned.
Unless you are thinking of that house worth of 335K.
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by michaeljc70 »

Shallowpockets wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 9:20 am Simply tell your father not to include the house to be bequeathed to you at all. Do not be on that paperwork at all. Then all those onerous and unpredictable results or concerns will not happen. At least not as far as you would be concerned.
Unless you are thinking of that house worth of 335K.
The father doesn't want his wife's deadbeat son to get the house.
hi_there
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by hi_there »

michaeljc70 wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 9:21 am
Shallowpockets wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 9:20 am Simply tell your father not to include the house to be bequeathed to you at all. Do not be on that paperwork at all. Then all those onerous and unpredictable results or concerns will not happen. At least not as far as you would be concerned.
Unless you are thinking of that house worth of 335K.
The father doesn't want his wife's deadbeat son to get the house.
I wonder, what is the estimated remainder of Dad's estate, excluding the house? How much cash, investments, etc. does he intend to have the wife inherit, which could eventually be inherited by the son?
rich126
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by rich126 »

Maybe I missed it but what happens if the sister doesn't pay her share? Does the house automatically belong to you?

Sadly stuff like this can get very messy and I have a lot of sympathy for everyone involved (well, except for freeloaders). Clearly the dad wants to help the wife which is understandable. Trying to keep the other child out of it can be messy.

I just recall a friend who had both parents suddenly pass away. One was expected, the other was more of a surprise. He was the executor and had to deal with several people not in the will wanting payouts (smaller amounts like $1K or so). He was a very nice, honest guy and it drove him crazy that the attorney would tell him "It is best and cheapest just to pay them".

It is probably best to keep asking questions and talk to various people, including lawyers and try to find a path forward that would minimize problems.
Good luck.
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by LittleMaggieMae »

I'm hoping the OP saw this:

You mentioned about paying the property taxes with the estate funds, but there are a lot more expenses in owning the house.
1. Who is going to pay the utility bill, phone bill, etc.?
2. You will need homeowners insurance on the house?
3. Is there an association fee?
4. If there is a need for a major repair (water heater, roof, appliances, etc) who will pay?

There may also be other expenses - lawn service, snow shoveling, yearly maintenance like HVAC cleaning/check, deck/fence that needs staining, and a quarterly walk around the property to make sure everything is in good condition or to identify what's coming up on the "that needs attention" check list. (who's replacing the furnace filter every month or two??)

The OP and sibling are basically being put into a Landlord situation. If they want their house to stay in good condition they need to maintain it. I would not count on an elder person (perhaps living alone) to shoulder all the responsibilities. Houses decay (entropy sets in) when houses are looked after routinely. I've witnessed plenty of houses decay into hot messes (over a decade or two) by neglect while being lived in by an elderly single or couple. Sometimes it wasn't due to lack of money. These were houses purchased post WWII by young couples starting out, they raised thier kids, they retired in place, and then in the 1990's they started dying or just getting really old/infirm and their home - that they once lovingly tended to started to fall into disrepair - they couldn't do the DIYs they use to and for many reasons didn't call to have it repaired by someone else. There was little happiness here for the elder in the house or the house. Houses that decay (even if they have good bones) loose value.
neverpanic
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by neverpanic »

helloeveryone wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 9:40 pm Not too much to add/recommend but kudos to you for 1) wanting to honor your dad's wishes
Not at all.
mevans154 wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 10:40 pm you may be looking at $10s of thousands of dollars of liability to honor your father’s wishes.
And that's why it's a hard no. There are no kudos for being expected to "honor wishes" at such great personal hassle and risk to oneself.
michaeljc70 wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 9:21 am The father doesn't want his wife's deadbeat son to get the house.
That's the father's ultimate goal. The father worked hard for what he earned in life and hates the thought of a lazy, ne'er do well benefiting from his labor. I get that - people who work hard deeply resent those who do not. But it's hard to believe that OP's father was unaware of the new wife's son and what he represented prior to getting married. Would-be spouses can and do hide things, but a deadbeat child is pretty difficult to keep completely secret. So, the father more likely than not married his wife knowing what her son was.

OP's father is now trying to pass the responsibility for that choice down to his kids. IMO, that's wrong.

I recognize that OP loves his father, but it's not incumbent upon the children to deal with the stepbrother issue. Although the father should do his best to make an arrangement for his wife, I do think it's OK for dad to ask the kids to help the wife transition into dealing with day-to-day maintenance and annual taxes, etc. if she needs some guidance when the time comes. For our own mental health, we can gift things to our deceased parents - helping the wife learn to handle her ongoing affairs - but no one should want to inherit any toxic relationships or the management of same.

OP - Set boundaries, and take on no personal risk. Assume your stepbrother will steal whatever he can, up to and including the house. If giving up $350K-ish keeps him completely out of your lives, that may be a pretty small price.
I am not a financial professional or guru. I'm a schmuck who got lucky 10 times. Such is the life of the trader.
SteadyOne
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by SteadyOne »

mouth wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 9:33 pm Hello all and thanks in advance for any thoughts / advice.

As the subject says, my dad wants to leave his house to myself and my sister upon his death, but for his wife to live in it until her death. The estate should also pay the property taxes. In general principal I have no problem with any of that (it's his house, so sure whatever). But as I have thought about it some more, and given other statements he's made I have concerns. Some detials ...

- Dad is in his mid 70's, Wife is same-ish. He's in average health considering a quad-bypass 7 years ago plus knee and hip replacements. She's fairly obese but also has a mother that lived into her late 90's I think. My sister and I get along with wife, no drama there. But we're not that close either given the marriage is only about 10 year old and we both live very far away so contact is minimal.

- I'm 48, sister is 56

- Dad is revising his will to codify the detail he's told me verbally several times over the years. That, he wants his wife to live in the house until she passes. Meanwhile the house and it's contents pass to myself and sister upon his passing and we are to pay the property taxes from the estate during that time.

He's asked me to comment on the revised changes. They are literally parenthetical and, if truly the only changes to the document, worryingly sparse. But it gets worse.

- Dad is adamant (verbally many many times) that her son never live in the house. There's history there. Let's just say wife's son never fully cut the cord nor held a steady job. He's about my age, maybe a few older. I've met him like 3 times. Whatever, I don't judge but it sets the stage for my concerns and honoring my father's wishes while trying to avoid drama in my life.

Playing the What-If game I've already asked my father a few things (with gentler wording than below):

- nothing in the will describes what happens if she moves out vs passes. That leaves a limbo state where she moves out, hasn't died, the house is "vacant", and the letter of his will could be construed to say I can't sell the house. This to me is an important but minor issue which can be easily fixed. But what really has me worried ...

- To fullfill his wishes I am now in the position of having to police her son, take action, and worry about the consequences should he decide to damage the house / empty of it's contents. While I'm policing wife's son, wife will surely be going through a traumatic event as I am effectively needing to evict her son!

- And what if the reason he's living there is because she is understandably no longer able to take care of herself? Now what? Sure I could just accept it ignoring Dad's wishes but even then ...

- When she passes, because I really won't have any contact with her (much like now), it could be weeks, months, or longer before I'm aware. At best the house is unoccupied. At worst it's emptied / trashed by the son. Truth be told I don't think he's like that, but he's certainly irresponsible, the house will be vulnerable for however long it is before I'm made aware that she's passed, and if I've previously had to kick him out ... who knows.

The actual email I sent my father pointed out some of the above (again, "softer"), highlighted that my goals are to honor his intentions that his wife have a place to live, but also not putting us all at risk of some very uncomfortable situations that would end up running counter to his prime directive.

And those are just the things I thought of. What other "what ifs" am I missing?

More to the purpose of this post: what experience, guidance, suggestions, might anyone have? I suggested in my email that we could talk more about this, and that his attorney might have some suggestions about how to deal with any/all of these concerns to include some version where the house becomes hers (sold?) to avoid the entire situation.

If it matters at all, the house is worth probably $335k and is likely, maybe, I assume a few years from being paid off if not fully paid off. Neither sister nor myself have any desire live in the house, or even the area of the house. Golf course communities are NOT our scene and never will be.

I'll close with, I personally don't need the money from the house. I could gift it to her just to get it out of my life. My sister isn't nearly that well settled, and I am also having to consider HER own long term health-care needs by her own request that we "have a talk" about her failing memory.

Thanks for reading this far. Thank you even more if you have any sage advise or important questions to be asked.
I very highly recommend’Beyond the grave’ book. It described in detail similar situations and what to do about it (if anything)
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michaeljc70
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by michaeljc70 »

neverpanic wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 11:00 am
helloeveryone wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 9:40 pm Not too much to add/recommend but kudos to you for 1) wanting to honor your dad's wishes
Not at all.
mevans154 wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 10:40 pm you may be looking at $10s of thousands of dollars of liability to honor your father’s wishes.
And that's why it's a hard no. There are no kudos for being expected to "honor wishes" at such great personal hassle and risk to oneself.
michaeljc70 wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 9:21 am The father doesn't want his wife's deadbeat son to get the house.

That's the father's ultimate goal. The father worked hard for what he earned in life and hates the thought of a lazy, ne'er do well benefiting from his labor. I get that - people who w
ork hard deeply resent those who do not. But it's hard to believe that OP's father was unaware of the new wife's son and what he represented prior to getting married. Would-be spouses can and do hide things, but a deadbeat child is pretty difficult to keep completely secret. So, the father more likely than not married his wife knowing what her son was.

OP's father is now trying to pass the responsibility for that choice down to his kids. IMO, that's wrong.

I recognize that OP loves his father, but it's not incumbent upon the children to deal with the stepbrother issue. Although the father should do his best to make an arrangement for his wife, I do think it's OK for dad to ask the kids to help the wife transition into dealing with day-to-day maintenance and annual taxes, etc. if she needs some guidance when the time comes. For our own mental health, we can gift things to our deceased parents - helping the wife learn to handle her ongoing affairs - but no one should want to inherit any toxic relationships or the management of same.

OP - Set boundaries, and take on no personal risk. Assume your stepbrother will steal whatever he can, up to and including the house. If giving up $350K-ish keeps him completely out of your lives, that may be a pretty small price.
I think the issue is the other beneficiary (the sister) is part of the equation and it sounds like she could use the money from the home sale. It seems to me any way you slice this it is going to be messy.

The least messy thing I can think of (in trying to keep with the father's wishes) is there to be a rental agreement that won't be extinguished until the step mother dies. The trust could pay the rent on behalf of the step mother or there could be only a nominal rent. The beneficiaries would maintain the house, pay the taxes, etc. and essentially be landlords. If the rent is low enough there shouldn't be any taxes due due to expenses and depreciation.

Another option would be to sell the house upon the father's death with a leaseback arrangement and the estate pay the rent. This would make the market of buyers smaller, but a guaranteed tenant and rent would be appealing to some property investors. Then the beneficiaries wouldn't' really have to do anything except cut a rent check. This would avoid the issue of capital gains on the house later. On the father's DOD the market value becomes the basis for the beneficiaries. If the step mother lives 20 more years, the house could appreciate substantially creating capital gains.
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by illumination »

I have a family friend that the husband/father (who died) structured something similar with the home. And this was a person who he wasn't legally married to, but the kids had to allow her to live there. Complete disaster, lots of anger and bitterness and there's no end to it until the person dies.

I would really try and convince your dad to just cash people out and let them live their lives independently. It's his "stuff" so he can of course do whatever he wants, but I would structure it so you're aren't involved with this person and their affairs in any way after his death.
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by Dottie57 »

goingup wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 8:19 am I like how my dad handled this with his wife. She got the paid-off house and his pension. Investible assets divided among us siblings. He wanted to provide well for her. It was perfect because everyone went their separate ways after the funeral. Very little friction, which was what he was aiming for.

He was a great planner and had no illusions of dictating from the grave.
+1
aristotelian
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by aristotelian »

I hope he is consulting an attorney. I don't think he can mandate who live in the house under what conditions. Just because he puts it in his will doesn't make it valid.
J295
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by J295 »

1. Lawyer
2. Conditional life estate if allowed in subject jurisdiction.
hnd
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by hnd »

i don't have much to add that worth anything but this sort of thing happened to my parents. my mothers father passed away, left the estate to my mom and her siblings with the wish that his 2nd wife (not their mother) be able to live there until she passed. my step grandmother had a handful of siblings, most pretty much on their own and pretty good to do but had 1 leech that my grandfather did not prefer.

He didn't write in anything but he was very adamant that they police this persons actions and make sure they are not taking advantage of stuff. none of them live close.

they decided that at this point as long as the place was being taken care of, that regardless of his wishes, there was no way to truly "police" anything. The feeling was that anything we due may place undue stress on grandma and in the end, it worked out. the person did move in and did manage the property and take care of their step mom. for the most part things went ok, they lived stress free, and their step mom was cared for. the property was sold debts were paid and everyone got a small check.

IMO tell your dad you will do your best and leave it at that. try to not incur any costs on your own and create undue work and stress on yourself. I imagine your father seeing a son/daughter struggle and be frustrated due to "policing" would not be something he wished for if he could see it.
Freetime76
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by Freetime76 »

I’ll echo others that it’s better to have the discussion in advance, and really nice that your dad is being open (I hope he gets what he wants accomplished).

For the OP:
1. I’m another vote for not using the life estate option.
- I saw one case where it worked as intended (technically anyway) - the family friend was allowed to continue living in the home...to the detriment of her and the home...until lack of care led to declining health and a fire that destroyed the home (and nearly her). Not good. The owner fulfilled the wish, though.
- In your dad's case, I am not sure how to separate being responsible for his spouse from being responsible for the house...while she lives in it.

2. If the house is going to the two of you, I still ask why not have the estate sell it and split the proceeds? Leave other money to the spouse so she can buy it, if possible, or leave a third of the house money to her. I realize moving is tough.
- If there isn’t enough to go around, then dad needs to make some choices. (Sorry Dad!) If the priority is spousal care, then she needs money or the house, whether it’s from him or her own previous life.
- Nobody is saying it, but I will. Does your sister need money for her care and does she have her own means? (Not, I don’t feel like working...I’m talking memory care). Is your sister going to be able to help manage this over the years?
- IMHO, split ownership is fraught with peril for having issues. Selling while still part of the estate is simplest. In this case, you have (sort-of-a-red-herring) dad’s stepson to consider.

I’m sure your dad is trying to do right by his wife for her care. The house as a residence is one way, buy perhaps she wouldn’t choose such a large (single family?) place for herself, or maybe she’d move closer to her son...or maybe she loves their home and she would like to stay...
Please spell out new acronyms. Thank you.
bsteiner
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by bsteiner »

Lee is correct. Life estates and remainders are awkward. A trust is more flexible.

Policing the son may not be practical.

Alternatively, given the modest value of the house, he could simply leave her the house.

What state does he live in? Most states give the spouse the right to claim an elective share. What percentage of his estate does the house make up? Is there a prenuptial agreement that would limit her rights to something less than the elective share?
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celia
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by celia »

I would like to list other possibilities that haven’t been mentioned, as a lot of time has already been spent on just one possibility. After #0, these could be shared with dad to help him see the bigger picture in his estate planning.

0. Are you SURE your father owns the house all alone? It is possible he changed the deed soon after marrying to own it jointly with his wife, in which case there’s no property for his children to inherit when he dies, if he dies first. (OP, check the online deeds for the county your dad lives in or order a copy. Also make sure there are no reverse mortgages on it.)

1. Can his wife afford to pay the utilities and other expenses that a renter would be expected to pay? Can his children (new house owners) afford the property taxes, regular landscaping, and house maintenance without using their own money?

2. What if either dad or wife need home care or assisted living and the only way to pay for it is by selling the house?

3. What if the house becomes unlivable after a storm/ hurricane/ tornado/ earthquake and no-one is around to manage repairs/rebuilding?

4. What if your dad becomes mentally incapacitated? Who will make his decisions while he is still living?

5. What if step-mom WANTS the son to take care of her/ make her decisions after she is incapacitated (father still living or not)?

6. What if OP/sister die before their father? Or are not able/willing to step in after father dies? (Could have their own needs to worry about?)

7. What if step-mom re-marries after dad dies? Does new husband get to live there? (My dad was widowed twice and re-married again at 79, all being good marriages for him.)

I would also suggest that dad send a signed and notarized will to each child as wills left where one lives can mysteriously “disappear”. (There can be more than one “original”.) I’ve read that an original needs to be presented to the court.
sureshoe
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by sureshoe »

The big problem you're getting into here is enforceability of the conditions. Depending on the state and the court, you get into a question of whether these stipulations are enforceable. In my opinion, they are not - but I'm not a lawyer. For example, I can't write a will saying, "you inherit $10,000 as long as you don't marry PersonX". Saying you must provide rent free housing to someone while also putting visitation restrictions on them feels akin to this.

As others have listed, there is the question of your moral responsibility to dad and your legal responsibility. Fundamentally, your dad seems to want these thigngs:
1) His wife not be homeless
2) His wife not have to move unnecessarily

A lot of this depends on what, if any other assets your father has and whether his wife actually has any money/income. I'm assuming she doesn't have much or we wouldn't be having this conversation. You really need to figure out the cashflows. I'd calculate the value of the house and have a rental agreement that is implemented upon your father's passing. For example, if the house is worth $150k, maybe rent is $1200/month. Create an agreement that rent is deferred and/or forgiven in some manner, charged against her estate/etc. Have stipulations about her being able to care for herself, upkeep of the home, etc. You could even put some sort of clause it in that when/if she moves, she gets a $20k payment or something and all rent forgiven, assuming the house is in good condition.

The short version is you need legal documentation on the rental and a way to force her out of her home. You want to honor your father, but you also need to protect yourself and treat her like a regular tenant. You can give her favorable terms, but if your father passes away and is gone for 3-5 years, you don't want to be babysitting your step mother.
bsteiner
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Re: Dad wants Wife to live in house left to me and sister after he passes

Post by bsteiner »

celia wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 1:38 pm ...
I would also suggest that dad send a signed and notarized will to each child as wills left where one lives can mysteriously “disappear”. (There can be more than one “original”.) I’ve read that an original needs to be presented to the court.
In that case, ALL of the signed copies must be presented. Otherwise, there's a presumption that he destroyed one of them with the intention of revoking his Will.

That's the same presumption that applies when only one copy is signed and it can't be found.

We had a case where the testator signed three copies of his Will. The drafting lawyer kept one, the named executor had one, and the testator kept one in his apartment. After the testator died, the one he kept in his apartment couldn't be found. The result was several hundred thousand dollars of legal fees before the beneficiary under the Will, the person who would take absent a Will, and the trustees of the trust to which the agent under his power of attorney transferred substantial assets in the year before he died, were able to reach a settlement.

So don't sign more than one copy of the Will. Also, let the law firm retain custody of the signed original. If the law firm loses it, someone in the firm can sign an affidavit saying they had custody of it and lost it. I had such a case where the drafting lawyer signed an affidavit saying he had custody of the Will and lost it.

If the testator keeps it, it will be much more difficult to overcome the presumption that he/she destroyed it with the intention of revoking it.
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