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Do you want your trust to benefit your heirs’ surviving spouses?

An heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune created a trust to benefit four children.  The trust was set up so that it would provide money to charity for a period of years, then be distributed to the four children and their spouses.

By the time the distribution came around, one of the children (named Mary) had died.  Her third husband, Martin, who was married to her when she died, claimed that he was a “spouse” who was entitled to collect from the trust.

The other children objected, saying that since Mary was dead at the time of the distribution, Martin didn’t qualify as a “spouse”.  The case went to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which determined that, in this case, the word “spouse” included a surviving spouse.

This is another good example of why its important to be as clear as possible in drafting trust documents. 

Many people wonder about all the “legalese” in those documents, when it seems to them that what they intend is obvious.  But once a person has passed away, what they wanted isn’t necessarily so obvious, and they can no longer be consulted.  So its best for the document to be as clear and detailed as possible, to avoid misunderstandings – and lawsuits.

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