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Three core benefits of having a living trust


Although the following true story happened in Australia, it easily could have taken place anywhere in the U.S. The names, taken from a court case, have not been changed.

Betty May Harris was an elderly widow with a $12.5 million fortune. She had no descendants, but she did have nieces and a nephew. In 1996, when she was 82 years old, Betty May executed a will naming as her sole beneficiary one niece, Coralie Hart, even though Betty May had very little contact with her.

In 2004 Betty May was hospitalized. She was visited there by her neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Gray, whom she had known for 35 years. Betty May was reluctant to contact her relatives, but eventually Mrs. Gray learned how to get in touch with Coralie. After Coralie came to see Betty May in the hospital, she went to Betty May’s house to look through her financial papers. There she discovered her status as the sole heir under the 1996 will, as well as the extent of Betty May’s fortune.

Coralie applied to be named guardian for Betty May. Based upon the testimony of a physician who examined Betty May in the hospital, and who believed that she suffered from moderate dementia, Coralie and her son-in-law, Mr. Swindells, became guardians. Mr. Swindells then transferred Betty May’s assets to his own name and began charging significant fees for his financial management work.

When she returned from the hospital, Betty May was outraged to discover that her house had been ransacked. What’s more, she had lost control of her own bank accounts and was very angry about the guardianship. She turned to her friends, the Grays, who arranged for her to be seen by two consulting neurologists.

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