Estate planning attorneys caution people not to write their own wills. Writing a will or estate plan can be complex. Yet, some claimed that one of our nation’s best attorneys did not heed the profession’s legal advice. There was a big commotion when former Chief Justice Warren Burger died in 1995 with a 176-word will.
His will was brief, very brief. Many were shocked that arguably one of our nation’s best legal minds wouldn’t have invested a little more time in estate planning. Virginia attorney George Dodge speculated in a local bar journal that Burger apparently “chose not to consult an estate planning lawyer. That decision will cost his estate thousands of dollars.” A court beat reporter for the Chicago Tribune jumped on the bandwagon criticizing the will as deficient. Yet, other media outlets and a scholarly legal article written by Paul Caron in 1995 said Chief Justice Burger likely knew exactly what he was doing and had in fact consulted a very skilled estate planning attorney. Apparently, Burger’s will when combined with his late wife Elvera’s will, saved the estate the maximum amount in taxes and avoided an unnecessary trust. Burger’s estate was allegedly $1.8 million and the maximum amount that could be sheltered from taxes at the time was $1.2 million.
The moral of the story is that good estate planning accomplished what it was intended to in the Chief Justice’s case. A skilled Texas estate planning lawyer can save you some potential grief. While some individuals are comfortable with self-drafted wills, an experienced attorney can be a second set of eyes to catch and prevent drafting errors that could be costly to your estate. Ironically, the simplicity of the Chief Justice’s will is actually what protected his estate in the end.