A Lesson from Sir Peter Ustinov: The Importance of Maintaining a Current Will

Sir Peter Ustinov, a famous English actor, columnist, and UNICEF Ambassador, passed away on March 28, 2004. Despite the fact that he died nearly 10 years ago, his estate still has not been settled. Sir Ustinov had been married three times, and had four children at the time of his death. He was estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars. Sir Ustinov’s most recent will at the time of his death was 36 years old and written in pencil. Because the will was so outdated, the Swiss court that has jurisdiction over Sir Ustinov’s estate ruled that he died intestate. As a result, under Swiss law, his estate would pass to his widow. Since the decision that Sir Ustinov died intestate, there has been a battle over his estate. Specifically, Sir Ustinov’s son, (who was the heavily favored heir in the hand-written will that was rejected by the Swiss court), contends that Sir Ustinov set up trusts that held most of his assets (and whose whereabouts are known only by two retired Swiss lawyers) that should pass to Sir Ustinov’s children. This battle has resulted in the parties amassing a large bill for attorneys’ fees and is suspected to have eaten away most of Sir Ustinov’s once vast estate. Sir Ustinov’s son-in-law has stated that due to the costs of the litigation, there is little left to fight over. The son who is pushing the litigation recently admitted that he is nearing bankruptcy as a result of the legal fees he has incurred. Even an English High Court Judge has stated that she is appalled by the money that the family has spent fighting over the estate.

Most people do not want to leave their family members to squander what assets there are to inherit upon their death in a protracted legal battle, whether it is tens of millions of dollars or ten dollars. Litigation over the assets of an estate can be avoided through the execution of a valid Final Will and Testament. A will should also be updated in order to ensure that it accurately reflects the testator’s assets, and that those assets will be passed on in the manner that meets the testator’s current wishes. Outdated wills can be modified, clarified, or updated through execution of a codicil. Previous wills can also be revoked, and an entirely new will can be executed. Taking such measures could prevent your family or chosen heirs from repeating the testamentary battle reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House that has been fought by the Ustinov family.

The Florida Legislature has enacted laws regarding what steps are required to execute a valid will, and it is advisable to seek the aid of a qualified attorney to ensure the validity and clarity of your will. If you or someone that you know would like to create a new will or update an existing will, please do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Chepenik Trushin, who are experienced in such matters.