Unfortunately, collecting assets through probate court is not always the easiest task. In fact, even having Walt Disney as a grandfather doesn’t help! Believe it or not, Walt Disney’s grandson, Brad Lund, has been experiencing major roadblocks in collecting his multi-million dollar inheritance for over 15 years! While Brad’s journey has been a long and tumultuous one, there are lessons we can learn from him. When it comes to matters of inheritance, probate court, and conservatorship, Brad’s story acts as a warning to many people.
Walt Disney’s Trust
Prior to his death, Walt Disney created a trust into which he placed all of his assets. According to the stipulations of Disney’s trust, 20% of his $400 million would go to his grandchildren. Specifically, each grandchild would receive a portion of their share at ages 35, 40, and 45. However, trustees were to distribute assets only if beneficiaries demonstrated “maturity and financial ability to manage and utilize such funds in a prudent and responsible manner” (Source: The Kingdom Insider).
Why Probate Court Withheld the Inheritance
Upon Brad’s 35th birthday, he was denied access to his first sum of inheritance by a new trustee due to a lack of demonstrated financial stability. This was just the beginning of Brad’s struggle with probate court. Starting in 2006, Brad began fighting to prove his own maturity and competence to judges who repeatedly denied it. In fact, one court official actually deemed Brad unfit to receive his inheritance because he “may have” Down syndrome. Then, even after Brad provided DNA evidence in court disproving this statement, the judge refused to retract his decision.
What the Court Did Instead
Instead of retracting the false claim that Brad had Down syndrome, the judge actually made another decision based on this idea! Specifically, the court ruled to appoint a “guardian ad litem”, or fill-in lawyer, on Brad’s behalf. This individual has the power to make decisions about Brad’s inheritance. Plus, Brad will be responsible for paying for their services! As a result, Brad is seeking a declaratory judgment that the court violated his rights. The complaint states:
“The imposition of a guardian ad litem has imposed significant constraints on Mr. Lund’s liberty and property interests in violation of the 14th Amendment, and his constitutional right to due process of law by not having any hearing” (Source).
Since filing this complaint, Brad has continued his fight to win his inheritance, and has even filed a separate complaint for anti-disability discrimination against the same judge.
How to Avoid Inheritance Issues in Probate Court
Unfortunately, there was likely nothing Brad Lund could have done differently to prevent his 15 years’ struggle with probate court. That said, while high profile cases may lead to more controversy, we can still learn a lesson from Brad. Cases of wrongful conservatorship appointments by the court are not uncommon. Plus, these fraudulent or unnecessary rulings can ruin a person’s life forever. Therefore, it’s important to support our family members and friends through probate and other court processes to ensure fair treatment.
That said, one of the simplest ways to save trouble for your family after your death is by avoiding probate and ensuring your assets are passed down automatically. While trusts can typically avoid the probate process, Brad Lund’s experience demonstrates why that is not always possible. Plus, you cannot be certain your estate’s trustees will remain the individuals you appointed. On the other hand, transfer on death (TOD) deeds and payment on death (POD) designations are good options if the beneficiary is not a minor.
Finally, A People’s Choice can help you draft your estate planning documents so you can protect your loved ones after your death. While we are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice, we can help you complete and file your will, trust, or other legal forms. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.
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