Probate courts generate plenty of stories about bad guardians, people appointed by a court to look after a ward’s well-being or finances when they are too young or otherwise unable to take care of themselves. Then there’s Betty J. Coleman. Prosecutors say she lied about her criminal past to be named guardian of her granddaughter’s suddenly flush estate. The girl, under 14 at the time, had been left $50,000 when Coleman’s ex-husband died.

This case highlights the importance of being careful when leaving an inheritance to a minor.

When Betty Coleman’s ex-husband passed away, he left a $50,000 inheritance for their granddaughter. Coleman lied in court about her criminal past so she could become the trustee of that inheritance.

She then proceeded to waste the entire inheritance on her own frivolous expenses, including alcohol and tobacco.

The granddaughter won a judgment against Coleman a couple of years ago, and now Coleman will face criminal charges for her theft.

The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel has more on this story in “Grandmother accused of wiping out girl’s $50,000 inheritance.”

Passing on an inheritance to a minor can be tricky. The minor will not be allowed to handle the funds for him or herself. Instead, someone will have to be appointed by a probate court.

It is important that you plan ahead and nominate someone trustworthy for this role. Courts will tend to appoint close relatives, but the court might not always know why that particular relative should not be trusted.

If you have questions about leaving an inheritance to a minor, contact an estate planning attorney to learn how to best do it.

Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.
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