Isn’t it Ironic (Don’t you think)?

In a story that seems to be match made for an Alanis Morissette song (see, e.g., Ironic), the largest sole lottery jackpot winner in U.S. lottery history is none other than eighty-four year old Gloria C. MacKenzie of Zephyrhills, FL. With her net payout expected to be roughly $270 million, it is safe to say that Ms. MacKenzie should be able to live comfortably for the rest of her life (hopefully a life that will far surpass the ninety-eight years of the “old man” described in the aforementioned Alanis Morisette song). But, regardless of where Ms. MacKenzie’s winnings take her in life, one thing is certain: It is time for her to update her estate plan! Already off to a good start in avoiding the pitfalls that befall so many lottery winners, Ms. MacKenzie waited nearly three weeks before claiming her winnings, choosing instead to spend that time consulting with advisors to prepare for her newfound riches. In fact, on her trip to Tallahassee to claim her prize, Ms. Mackenzie was joined by her attorney, William Brant, as well as her financial advisor. Lottery Spokesperson David Bishop said that Ms. Mackenzie’s advisors were very prepared when they arrived and had taken the past few weeks to “get everything in order.”

If Ms. MacKenzie, or any other individual for that matter, had not devised a thorough, up-to-date estate plan, her vast fortune could have potentially been distributed upon her death in a way that would not comply with her wishes, or would be subjected to unnecessarily excessive tax obligations. Given that Ms. MacKenzie had a spouse that predeceased her-as well as four children- it is quite possible that, had she not retained competent legal representation in Mr. Brant, the actual distribution of her estate at the time of her death (hopefully many years from now) could have been contrary to her actual wishes. Under Florida law, “any part of the estate of a decedent not effectively disposed of by will passes to the decedent’s heir as prescribed” by the Florida Legislature. § 732.101(1), Florida Statutes (2012). While state legislators no doubt have tried to design Florida’s statute of descent and distribution in a way that will reflect the preferences and expectations of the majority of individuals, it is virtually impossible to fully effectuate an individual’s testamentary intent, absent that individual creating a comprehensive plan of testamentary succession. For instance, would Ms. MacKenzie prefer that each of her children’s lines of descendants take equally (or per stirpes), or that the members of each generation take equally (or per capita)? Regardless of her preference, Florida law dictates that the “descent shall be per stirpes.” § 732.104, Florida Statutes (2012). With an estate of roughly $270 million, what may seem like a minor difference can have tremendous impacts on the amount that your heirs apparent take upon your death.
In addition to the size of the shares that are distributed, meeting with a competent legal counsel is crucial to ensuring that will formalities are satisfied, your succession plan takes into account tax implications, and a myriad of other issues are taken into consideration. While Florida’s “one-size-fits-all” statutory scheme is certainly better than nothing, you should still consult with an attorney who specializes in Wills, Trusts, and Estates, so that when your time comes, you can truly “rest in peace.” Bart Chepenik, Chepenik Trushin’s managing partner, represents individuals and families with estate planning, wealth preservation, asset protection planning, probate administration, trust administration, and guardianship administration.