Haunting Estate Planning Oddities: The Man Killed by His Own Will

For the Halloween episode of Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp engage in a spirited discussion of the horrors some folks have visited upon their families' finances from the afterlife by making big mistakes in estate planning.

In this segment, they recall the case of Cecil George Harris, who had never written a will -- until the day of the farming accident that killed him.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Oct. 31, 2017.

Alison Southwick: From the master of horror, Jolene. It's like Christine, but this time it's a tractor. When you laugh at this, it makes it less scary, by the way.

Robert Brokamp: I'm sorry. OK, cut out all my laughing. I'll stop laughing at Alison.

Southwick: No, no. You can laugh.

Brokamp: OK. Here we come upon the sad tale of Cecil George Harris, who was a Canadian farmer in Saskatchewan which is where? You should know this. Where is Saskatchewan?

Southwick: Canada!

Brokamp: It's Canada. It's north of Montana.

Southwick: Did you just say he was a Canadian farmer from Saskatchewan and then you want to quiz me on where Saskatchewan is? Canada! It's in Canada.

Engdahl: Isn't that where Sasquatch comes from?

Southwick: Sasquatch.

Brokamp: That's what I thought! It's funny you say that because that's what I thought when I was a kid. Because all the Bigfoot sightings were up north. So on June 8, 1945 poor Cecil. Out on his tractor. Gets pinned under the tractor. And he's there for hours before anyone finds him. They do find him. He's still alive. Take him to the hospital. Unfortunately, he dies the next day. It turns out that he doesn't have a will [or so people think].

Southwick: [Gasps] Duh duh duh!

Brokamp: Later on neighbors were looking at the tractor. They looked at the fender and they saw something scrolled there.

Southwick: No way!

Brokamp: Yes, they did. It basically said, "In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife. Cecil George Harris." And because there was no doubt as to who wrote that...

Southwick: Right!

Brokamp: ... they accepted that as his will. The problem is with a will it has to be filed with the court, so the bumper had to be removed from the tractor...

Southwick: No way!

Brokamp: ... filed with the courthouse in Saskatchewan and then in 1996 [so this is decades after he died], it was handed over to the University of Saskatchewan College of Law for public display.

Southwick: Oh! How do you keep something...? Like if something is written in dust, how do you keep it intact?

Brokamp: Actually, what he did is he had a pocket knife... and he scrawled it into the fender as he was laying there. I know. It's pretty cool, isn't it?

Southwick: Incredible.

Brokamp: Anyway, the lesson of this story is that we definitely think you should see a qualified estate planning attorney. Get it all done legally. Don't do it on your own. However, if you have to do something, sometimes doing something is better than doing nothing. Some states do recognize handwritten wills, for example. So if you're ever in a situation and you don't know how things are going to turn out, try something.

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