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‘Joint will’ couldn’t be modified later

Jerome and Sandra Murray signed a “joint will” in 1993. It provided that if one of them died, the other would inherit all the property. It also said that the will couldn’t be modified unless they both agreed to any changes.

Unfortunately, the couple divorced in 2001. In the divorce settlement, Sandra received a condo in New York.

In 2006, she put the condo into a trust. The trust document said that if she died, the trust property would be distributed in whatever way she provided in her will. Since the joint will said nothing about the trust, Sandra wrote a new will. The new will said it wasn’t intended to change anything in the joint will, but added that when she died, the trust property would be given to her children.

Sandra died in 2008, and the family went to court. Jerome claimed that he was entitled to the condo under the joint will, and the children claimed they were entitled to the condo under the new will.

The result? Jerome won. Since the joint will said that Jerome would get all the property, and the will couldn’t be modified without his consent, the new will didn’t matter and he was entitled to the condo.

The irony, the court said, was that if Sandra had really wanted her children to have the condo, she could simply have given it to them while she was alive. Nothing in the joint will would have prevented her from doing so. But because she wanted to keep the title for as long as she was alive, the condo was subject to the joint will at her death.

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