Ernie Banks’ Estate Woes
As chronicled throughout Chicago and national media, there is a fight brewing between the family of Ernie Banks and his caretaker who has filed a Will presumably signed by Banks that leaves the bulk of his estate to her. There are some fascinating wrinkles to this case, though, as Ernie was apparently in the middle of divorce proceedings with his estranged wife, who lives in California and it appears that the will was signed some time in the last three months of Ernie’s life.
I have not viewed the will (which is filed with the Cook County court and is public record) but, the news accounts I’ve read say that the will named the caretaker as executor and the main beneficiary. If this is true, and if Ernie did not have the bulk of his assets set up in trust, that is shocking to me. A trust is a useful estate planning tool for just about anyone, but especially for people who (a) have family strife; (b) want to leave assets to people who are not their ‘natural heirs’; (c) have property in multiple states; or (d) want their estate handled in a private manner.
By having such gifts flow through a will, it opens up so many issues that have to be hashed out in court and in the public eye. Most of my clients, even those with assets under $300,000, set up trusts to avoid probate and allow for a smoother transfer to their preferred beneficiaries.
Interestingly, a new Illinois law became effective on January 1 of this year which states that wills which provide more than $20,000 for a caregiver of the person signing the will are presumed to be invalid. The caregiver has to show, by clear and convincing evidence, that the gift was not the result of fraud, duress, or undue influence. That is a very large hurdle and is very different than we normally see in these cases (usually, you only have to prove that the deceased person’s signature is on the document). If the caregiver is not able to prove this, they receive nothing under the will and the caregiver is required to pay the attorney’s fees and court costs of the family that brings the challenge. So, if the filed will is truly Ernie’s wish, then let’s hope that he used a very thorough attorney who very carefully recorded all of his meetings with Ernie to present at trial. If the caretaker was improperly influencing Ernie, though, it is my guess that she will have a very hard time succeeding in court.
These squabbles and fights are never pretty and no one comes out looking good when they are over; however, I am always amazed at how many high net-worth celebrities, athletes, and entertainers have failed to do even simple estate planning that can avoid so many of these problems for their loved ones. By all accounts, Ernie Banks was the perpetual optimist and surely he never wanted to see his loved ones fighting over his legacy. Here’s hoping everyone involved is able to ask themselves “What Would Ernie Do” and have the matter settled fairly and amicably before catching a game (or two) on the North Side.