LegalLife™ Case Examples

Real LegalLife™ case examples show you what can happen when you ignore, or don't understand, the legal aspects of your life.

Living Wills

The Terri Shiavo case sparked a national debate over legal issues related to health care and maintaining life by artificial means. Schiavo was 26 when she collapsed in her home and experienced respiratory and cardio arrest. She ended up in a persistent vegetative state for many years and a legal battle ensued between her husband and family over whether or not to remove her feeding tube.

Schiavo had not articulated her wishes regarding being kept alive through artificial means.


A living will is a legal document that can be prepared which allows you express in writing the kind of medical and surgical treatment you would authorize before the need arises. It enables you to authorize or reject life support methods. A living will takes effect only when a patient is incapacitated and can no longer express his or her wishes.

Wills

The Griswold case is but one example of a legal battle that can occur because of failure to write a will. (Griswold vs. See, S087881) Denis H. Griswold left an estate valued at $300,000 when he died. Because he did not prepare a will, the California Supreme Court ruled that Griswold's estate must be divided equally between Griswold's widow and two half brothers that he never met or knew existed. The half brothers did not know of Griswold either, until a professional "heir hunter" tracked them down and mentioned possibility that they could inherit some money. The case was reported in The Los Angeles Times by Maura Dolan in 2001 with headline "Strangers to Get Half of Estate."

A will is a legal document that is used to give written detailed instructions of how you want your property to be distributed upon your death. It allows you to name an executor who will administer your estate and see that all the provisions and stipulations of your last wishes are carried out in an orderly fashion. Generally, for a will to be valid you must sign it in the presence of two witnesses who can attest to your signature.

Trusts

For those with substantial assets, there may be a good reason to establish a trust. Take the case of Elvis Presley. He was known as the King of Rock 'n' Roll and when he died in 1977, Elvis's estate was worth more than $10 million. It then went through probate. Probate is a court process where a will is introduced and its validity approved, an executor is appointed, taxes and outstanding debts of the deceased are paid off and the terms of the will are carried out according to the wishes of the deceased. After Presley's estate passed through probate, its value dropped more than 73% to about $2.8 million after taxes, legal and other fees. More details can be found in a personal finance column written by Sue Stevens in a 2005 Forbes.com piece with headline "Avoid the Estate Planning Blunders of Marilyn and Elvis."

A trust is basically property held by one party for the benefit of another or others. The parties to a trust are Grantor, who creates the trust; a trustee, or trustees, who retain and oversee the property; and a beneficiary, or beneficiaries, who receive benefits from the trust. Setting up a trust can save your estate from having to pay estate taxes when you die. Another advantage of a trust is that it doesn't have to go through probate like a will, but rather passes according to provisions of the trust as set up by the creator of the trust. Therefore, details of a trust don't become a part of public records. This allows you to maintain more privacy over your financial affairs.

Power of Attorney

Robert Rongey was 45-years-old when he loss control of his SUV and had an accident. His vehicle flipped and rolled several times on the highway. Rongey was thrown from the vehicle and his skull shattered. He was airlifted by helicopter and taken to a hospital where he spent months in a coma. Prior to the accident, Rongey had not prepared a power of attorney and his family began battling over his property, care, and custody. Adam Jadhav reported on the case for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a 2005 story with headline "Who will be awarded custody of Robert Rongey?"

A power of attorney is a legal document which allows you to appoint another person to act as your agent to manage your health, property, financial and other affairs. A power of attorney can begin immediately or go into effect at some time in the future such as if you become incapacitated and can no longer make decisions over your affairs.

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