Can a caregiver be named as the beneficiary in a Will?

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Can a caregiver be named as the beneficiary in a Will?

My mother passed away and my brother is the executor of the Will and we are both named as the sole heirs of her estate. However a neighbor of hers, who was acting as a caregiver got her to sign a handwritten Will on her death bed naming her as the beneficiary of her mobile home. She also removed items from my mothers home prior to my arrival and will not return them.

Asked on December 7, 2011 under Estate Planning, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 1 year ago | Contributor

1) Can a caregiver be named as a beneficiary? Yes--and this is not infrequent, since it's a way for the decedent to show appreciation for the time, effort, etc. spent by the other person to care for the decedent.

2) However, that does not mean that this will is necessarily valid:

a) A handwritten will may not be valid to begin with; to be valid, a will must be executed and witnessed properly. Each state has its own rules for this, so you need to check how the will was created vs. your state's laws to see if it would be enforceable or not.

b) Even if potentially enforceable, if the will was the product of "undue influence" by the caregiver (e.g. your mother was in a weak mental state or so dependent on this person that she could not say "no" or truly make up her own mind as to what to do), it may be invalid for that reason.

3) After your mother dies, no one--not even a legal beneficiary--may remove items from her home; even a beneficiary would have to wait until the will is probated and she receives those items (if she does).

From what you write, there is reason to think this neighbor has acted improperly in one or more ways, and that there may be grounds to challenge the will. You should consult with a trusts and estates attorney about how best to proceed.

Sharon Siegel / Siegel & Siegel, P.C.

Answered 1 year ago | Contributor

What you are referring to is a death bed will.  Of course, you will object to it (file written objections to probate) and admit your mother's last will to probate.  I would work with an attorney because you should move quickly before she files the will.  If you can get the will admitted to probate, she will not be entitled to notice.  Then it is for her to challenge you, which seems like you have a strong case.  There are other important strategies which you should discuss with a lawyer.  This is such a common situation and it is very unfortunate.  I would be happy to discuss this further with you if the estate is in NY.  Sharon M. Siegel, Esq.      212-721-5300 www.siegelandsiegel.com


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