Wills can include interesting items

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 Ann Jackson got Jack, a 5-year-old golden retriever, when her friend died unexpectedly four years ago.

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Ann Jackson and her dog Jack are in the law office of J. Carleton Vaughn Jr. off Telfair Street in Augusta. Vaughn, who has prepared more than 2,500 wills over the years, said it is not unusual for people to make provisions for their pets in their wills.   SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Ann Jackson and her dog Jack are in the law office of J. Carleton Vaughn Jr. off Telfair Street in Augusta. Vaughn, who has prepared more than 2,500 wills over the years, said it is not unusual for people to make provisions for their pets in their wills.

She was surprised to learn that her friend had left Jack to her in her will.

Jackson, who has two other dogs in North Augusta, provides for all of Jack’s needs, from food and veterinary visits to grooming appointments every five weeks.

“It’s what you do,” Jackson said. “It was an unexpected thing, and of course you do that. But it made me realize that you make provisions for your pets and how important it was to do it.”

In her own will, Jackson has made provisions for her dogs for when she and her husband die, including funds for the person who will take care of them, she said.

Over the years, local probate lawyers have seen clients leave interesting assets to loved ones in their last will and testaments.

From animals, golf clubs, antique cars and jewelry to moose heads and athletic medals, there are no limits to the things people give away in their wills.

Attorney J. Carleton Vaughn Jr. has prepared at least 2,500 wills during his career as a lawyer handling wills, trusts and estates and acting probate judge.

Many of his clients have set up trusts for their pets, including cats, dogs, horses, pigeons, parakeets and peacocks, leaving them $5,000 to $50,000 or 10 percent of their estate. They name a trustee to oversee the money and make sure the animal is fed, housed and cared for as long as they are alive, he said.

Or, they simply leave their pet to someone they have confidence will take care of it, Vaughn said, as in Jackson’s case.

Another of Vaughn’s clients left Arkansas mineral rights to a friend. She also gave someone her “Dutch Girl” pattern quilt, which was made with scraps of childhood clothing that was made by her aunt and then given to her for high school graduation.

Sometimes clients leave money for a loved one to take a dream trip they weren’t able to take themselves.

But other times, the items received may have no value, Vaughn said, such as time shares.

Time share owners must pay a monthly fee to maintain the property, which could equal several thousand dollars a year, he explained.

“They don’t want them,” Vaughn said. “They’re having to pay regime fees on them. They can’t sell them, but they’ll stick something in a will and give them to somebody.”

Judy Becker, an attorney with Donsbach & King LLC, said a client once left all of his personal property, including his firearm collection, to his son. The son, who lived out of state, had no desire to transport the guns across state lines because of the potential danger.

“We actually arranged with the Richmond County police department for him to turn them over to them. He didn’t want them,” she said.

Some clients leave items with sentimental value, particularly jewelry and wedding rings, wedding dresses, guns, antique cars or their grandfather’s pocket watch, said Russell Mobley, a trust and estate attorney with Fulcher Hagler LLP.

Others leave provisions in their will called an incentive trust, where assets are left in a manner to rehabilitate a family member. For instance, if a loved one has a substance abuse problem or if the person has a difficult time holding a job and they meet certain standards of behavior, they will be rewarded with a certain amount of money, Mobley said.

“I see that in practice where parents have a troubled child and are not going to be there to continue parenting, so they leave property in trust to try to incentivize behavior,” he said.

Some people simply leave salutations.

Becker, who practiced law in Atlanta for 26 years before moving to Augusta, was involved briefly with American writer and humorist Lewis Grizzard’s estate.

In his will, Grizzard said, “To Gary Hill, who I promised to mention in my will, I want to say, ‘Hi, Gary,’ ” according to James Brock, the clerk of court in Fulton County, where the will is filed.

On the other hand, some clients are specific about what they’re not going to leave to their loved ones. Becker has seen clients disinherit family members in their will and say why.

An elderly female client left a long list of specific items to be given to certain people. Among the items was a piece of furniture that she originally planned to give to her great-nephew.

“In her will she stated, ‘I am no longer leaving my item of furniture to my great nephew because I don’t like that young lady he’s keeping company with. He’s not keeping up the family standards,’ ” Becker said.

On her list, she left another family member a hand-crocheted antimacassar, a small cloth placed over the backs or arms of chairs, or the head or cushions of a sofa, to prevent soiling of the permanent fabric.

PREPARING A LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT

“One of the problems that always arises with estates is not the division of money, but it’s stuff,” said local attorney Carleton Vaughn Jr.

To prevent this, Vaughn advises people to take pictures of all their belongings and label them. They should also prepare a list with the items and the name of the person that should receive them.

Or, he recommends giving all tangible, personal property to one person, who will divide it among a group of people.

Even better, prior to their death, people could gather their personal belongings and family members and allow each person to take turns selecting pieces, until everything is gone. They could either put the family member’s name on it or give it away then, he said.

LEARN MORE

For more information on the interesting assets that are left in last will and testaments, attend the Augusta Estate Planning Council’s November meeting.

Nov. 8, 7:30 to 9 a.m., DoubleTree Hotel, 2651 Perimeter Parkway in Augusta

Allen L. Venet, the first vice president of SunTrust Bank in Atlanta, will speak on the topic “From the Bazaar to the Bizarre.”

To attend the meeting or become a member of the Augusta Estate Planning Council, contact Russell Mobley, the president of the council, at (706) 724-0171.

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