From Our “Ask a Question” Mailbag: Pennsylvania Contract to Will
Most Recently Updated August 9, 2018.
“I love my wife, but she is an Ohio State Buckeye Graduate. We have no children, and I know if I die first she will change her Will to give all our money to Ohio State. I am a Penn State Grad and would spin in my grave if this happened. Is there a way to make sure at least 1/2 our money goes to Penn State?”
Pennsylvania Contract to Will
Spouses sometimes differ on how assets are divided when the second person dies. If one spouse dies, and the assets all pass to the surviving spouse, without a binding agreement the surviving spouse controls where all assets go in the end. Verbal agreements don’t bind the surviving spouse.
A Contract to Will is a binding agreement between two people. Both persons bind themselves to leave all or a portion of their wills unchanged. The two people can always agree to change these terms, but once one dies the survivor is bound to the conditions.
For example, let’s say both spouses had wills saying that a house passes to all children at the survivor’s death. At the Husband’s death, the wife took ownership of the house. She can then change her Will and give the house to only one child. The other children have no legal claim to the house. There was no binding agreement between the husband and wife. Just because they had the same Wills at one point there is no Contract to Will without using very specific language.
In a further example, two sisters could bind each other with a Contract to Will that the family home will be sold at the survivor’s death and the proceeds divided equally among all grandchildren. If the proper language is used, the surviving sister is bound to this agreement.
In this example, the Ohio State Buckeye and the Penn State Lion can contract that when the second person dies all remaining assets are divided equally among both schools. The survivor is now bound by the Contract to Will.
What if the Survivor Changes the Terms?
If the survivor tries to avoid the Contract to Will, the people who benefited from the contract can enforce the terms.
For example, say Husband and Wife formed a Contract to Will binding the survivor to sell gas leases and divide the money equally among their children. Husband dies, and Wife changes her Will giving the leases to only one child. The other children have the right to hire an Estate Litigation Lawyer to enforce the terms.
Contract to Will, Very Common for Second Marriages.
There are often children on both sides of a second marriage. Potential distrust and conflict can arise when one spouse dies, and the survivor obtains ownership over assets earmarked for the deceased spouse’s children. A Contract to Will can defuse these concerns.
A typical situation involves a home. Say the home belongs to the Wife. She brought the home into the marriage and wants the house to pass to her children only when the second person dies. She dies first, and the house passes to the Husband. They agree he is to pay all expenses and live in the house until his death. At his death, he is to give the home to her children. When this arrangement is just a verbal agreement, the Wife’s children have to worry the Husband might change his mind. If he does change his mind, they will have no way to recover the house. But, with a Contract to Will, the terms are now binding.
A Contract to Will Can Replace a Post-Nuptial Agreement.
Depending on the issues being addressed, a Contract to Will can replace a Post-Nuptial Agreement. While a Contact to Will doesn’t discuss divorce or separation, it can bind the parties to issues surrounding death. If these are your only issues, then a Contact is enough.
More Planning Questions?
The contract to will is only a piece of the Estate Planning process. By all means, if you want to learn more, please read my more detailed article, Estate Planning Everything You Need to Know.
In Conclusion: Pennsylvania Contract to Will
I hope that this article was helpful in explaining Pennsylvania Contract to Will. Further, I included links to even more detailed information on my website so you can learn more. Therefore, please contact me and let me know how I did. Certainly, your comments and questions are welcome!
Let our Estate Planning lawyers help walk you through what can be a confusing process. To begin with, call to speak to one of our experienced estate planning lawyers. By all means, our lawyers are ready to answer your questions. In fact, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation. Ultimately our goal is to make the process as painless as possible!
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