Posted by: The Life and Legacy Planning Group
A will or trust contest can wreak havoc on families. The conflict can result in possibly irreparable resentment and loss of familial communication. Old rivalries and disputes can resurface during the trying time that occurs after the death of a loved one, especially a parent. But careful estate planning can help you substantially reduce the risk, or even avoid this problem entirely.
Let’s take a look at a few of the ways you can build your estate plan to minimize family conflicts after you’re gone.
- Keep your plan up-to-date: An up-to-date estate plan can help you preserve family unity after death or in the event of incapacity. Even if you have put an estate plan in place in recent years, estate planning is an ongoing process and needs attention at regular intervals. An out-of-date plan can become misaligned with your goals, obsolete because of new laws and policies, out of synch with your assets, and ineffective in keeping pace with family dynamics, making it more likely to generate conflict (the last thing you want).
- Select key individuals in your plan: You can give certainty to your family and make your wishes easier to carry out by selecting the right people as your key players in carrying out your estate plan. Make sure that you’ve thoughtfully selected the right fiduciaries; a few of the key individuals you’ll have to select:
- Successor incapacity trustee – This person or entity will manage your trust’s assets during a period of incapacity, when you are unable to do so.
- Successor death trustee – you will need someone to administer your trust estate upon your death, and to take care of tax matters, real estate sales, valuations, and all the other things that are required after the death of someone who has created a Living Trust.
- Successor trustee for ongoing trusts – if you leave assets to beneficiaries in trust, this trustee will manage those assets over time for the benefit of those beneficiaries. Such beneficiaries may be minors, special needs beneficiaries, or simply beneficiaries that you wish to protect from creditors and predators.
- Executor – This person is appointed in your Will to manage your probate estate if one is needed. In many cases, you may select the same person as your successor death trustee. However, if you don’t, remember that your executor must work closely with your successor trustee to ensure that everything is handled smoothly and in a timely fashion.
- Health care agent – This person is authorized to communicate with your medical providers and make medical decisions, possibly including end-of-life decisions, if you are unable to do so.
- Financial agent – This person is authorized to make financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. He or she will likely need to work closely with your successor incapacity trustee, or you may designate the same person to serve in both roles.
- Share your wisdom: By sharing your stories and wisdom (through ethical wills, intent letters, personal stories, videos, etc.) you can help your family understand the legacy you want to leave so that the wealth you’re leaving doesn’t become a distraction or point of contention.
- Don’t try to DIY: While it might be tempting to cut corners and take your estate plan into your own hands, taking a do-it-yourself approach is never wise. This sets the stage for potentially inadequate planning, which increases the likelihood of will or trust contests and will likely mean your estate isn’t distributed how you’d like it to be in the end. Let your estate planning attorney do the heavy lifting — we’re always here to help.
- Be clear about your intentions: Are you planning on giving more of your total assets to one child than the others? Or are there other ways in which your estate planning goals may upset some of your beneficiaries (or those who aren’t beneficiaries)? It can be a very tricky subject to broach, but if you foresee hurt feelings, consider being as clear as possible about your wealth distribution plans with those individuals. This will limit the potential for confusion and disagreement down the road. It may – or may not – make sense to explain this to your family. But, it’s always incredibly important to let us know the reasons so we can develop a rock-solid legal strategy to carry out your goals.
- Consider discretionary trusts: If you have a child or other potential beneficiary who struggles with addiction, mental health problems, or other conditions that could hinder their ability to use their inheritance in a healthy way, you might want to consider a discretionary trust. With this type of trust, you can control the disbursements based on your beneficiary meeting certain requirements — such as attending a treatment program or enrolling in higher education. This can help you treat each child fairly by taking into consideration what is best for each child’s unique situation. You may also simply want to safeguard inherited assets, protect them from a potential future divorce or lawsuit, or simply help provide management of those assets.
Will or trust contests can tear a family apart, and can also be time-consuming, costly, and embarrassing for the family that remains. If someone who feels slighted by your estate plan can convince the court that your Will or Living Trust is invalid, chaos can break loose and your intended beneficiaries can lose their inheritances. Typical reasons a family member might use to say your estate plan is invalid are that it wasn’t signed, you didn’t have the capacity to make the estate planning decisions you made, the documents were fraudulent, or that you were pressured or influenced to sign documents.
Let us help you make sure that none of these events unfold. We’re here to guide you every step of the way through creating and maintaining a timely, robust, and strategic estate plan. Give us a call today to make sure your plan is current and includes all the necessary provisions to keep a contest from occurring in the future.