Friday, October 10, 2014

The 23-Word Coolidge Will -- A Blunt Disinheritance

President Calvin Coolidge, a man known for brevity, wrote a total of 23 words of dispositive instructions in his will, which was handwritten on White House Stationary:  "Not unmindful of my son, I give all of my estate, both real and personal, to my wife, Grace Coolidge, in fee simple."  Mr. Coolidge could have shortened the instructions to 18 words by cutting out the phrase, "not unmindful of my son."  However, he might have feared that his son would challenge his disinheritance in court:

Had the President omitted the "not unmindful of my son" phrase, his son might have argued that his father had grown senile and forgotten that he had a son, meaning that he lacked testamentary capacity to sign a valid will.  The "not unmindful" language was likely meant to show that the disinheritance was intentional.  In US states (except Louisiana), parents are generally free to disinherit children.  However, doing so often invites legal challenges from children.  Judges and juries are often sympathetic to disinherited children arguing that their parents lacked mental capacity or were under undue influence when signing their wills.

Courtesy Daily Illini Archives at
Whether or not you wish your children to take any part of your estate, do not attempt to follow President Coolidge's example by drafting a 23-word will.  First, a handwritten note like Mr. Coolidge's may be invalid in some states (handwritten wills can be deemed "holographic," and face a highly uncertain road in probate court).  Second, the President's will fails to name an executor (and successor executors) to probate the will, a serious oversight.  Third, the will leaves many basic questions unanswered, like where the President wishes his property to go if his wife predeceases him.  Additionally, if one of the goals of an estate plan is disinheritance of a wayward child, it would be worth strongly considering a living trust as a will substitute, as the terms of the trust are not public and are generally more difficult to challenge in court.

Published by Ian Holzhauer, Esq. of Nagle Obarski PC in Naperville, IL.  

Note:  The information above is not legal advice and is not the basis of an attorney-client relationship.  If you need assistance, you can hire an attorney to assist you with your individual legal needs. 


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