What Can We Learn From Gilligan’s Island’s Dawn Wells?

Dawn Wells, best known as the girl-next-door cast away, Mary Ann on the hit show Gilligan’s Island, passed away in 2020 at the age of 82. Wells’ last will included a unique clause regarding her personal belongings. Apparently, Wells left her personal belongings to her “friends and family” supervised by her named personal representatives. It looks as though prior to her passing (I would think) Wells requested, via email, from her friends and family a list of items that they would want from her estate (how morbid). That list was provided to the personal representatives with instruction that in the event of a conflict, the personal representatives will arbitrate and decide. 

So, what can we learn about putting a personal representative in charge of personal belongings in a last will?

We learn that Dawn Wells’ complex last will landed her in probate court. It doesn’t look like the probate was contested, but it was necessary. Not always, but the fact that a probate was necessary at all, may indicate that something was missed in the estate planning phase. A properly executed estate plan should avoid a probate. Specifically, a Florida memorandum of disposition with instructions to the personal representative to provide to a list of NAMED individuals is customary, encouraged and avoids probate. However, ambiguous instructions for the benefit of “loved ones” will most likely require a Judge’s order to resolve. 

We learn that when property articulated, a personal representative may have broad powers over the decedent’s personal assets. We would want to make sure that the list of distribution is outlined as well as the list of beneficiaries to avoid requiring a Judge’s opinion.  

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With over 50 years of combined experience, our probate, estate planning, real estate, elder law and asset protection attorneys provide peace of mind for our clients throughout South Florida.

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