We always stress the importance of choosing the right personal representative for a Last Will and Testament. The ideal candidate is someone impartial, capable, trustworthy, and fair. It isn’t a decision to make lightly.

Why not? Well, consider this story from Forbes. The cast of characters, as they put it, includes:

  • The Deceased — A 92-year-old widow with $12.5 million to her name
  • The Personal Representative (a.k.a. Executor) — The deceased’s cousin, a 73-year-old homemaker with a high school education
  • The Attorney — An older attorney distracted by her own battle with brain cancer
  • The Beneficiaries — 7 distant relatives and 3 charities
  • The IRS — (Well, you already know all about the IRS.)

And here’s what happened, according to Forbes:

When 92-year-old Virginia passed away, she left a simple little three-page will behind. In fact, she’d just had that will drawn up six months prior. When Virginia died, her cousin and personal representative returned to the attorney’s office and asked how to proceed. The lawyer said she’d take care of everything, but in her own private battle with cancer, she forgot.

The personal representative kept getting notices in the mail, but the lawyer assured her that she was filing for an extension and that all was taken care of. All was not taken care of, and eventually the IRS slapped the estate with a $1.2 million fine, consisting of penalties and interest.

The personal representative elicits sympathy, at least. Reportedly a woman of simple means, she’d never even been inside an attorney’s office before. Nevertheless, she and the attorney each found themselves as defendants against a malpractice suit filed by the estate. They settled out of court, and now the personal representative is in the middle of her own legal action, seeking reimbursement from the IRS.

The story just goes to show how important it is to choose the right personal representative and the right estate planning attorney. They could save your family a fortune, not to mention a real pain in the neck.

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