Estate plans can be as unique as the individuals and families they are created to…
The pain of losing a loved one multiplies when arguments arise about who inherits what, among conflict-prone families. This can be especially true for those who had good relationships prior to the deceased family member’s death. Whether you already know your family is likely to fight about your estate, or you believe your family members will “do the right thing”, it is a good idea to make sure your estate planning is well-drafted to reduce the likelihood of any future inheritance battles. Often tragedy opens old emotional wounds and brings buried feelings to the surface.
There is not one right way to leave your estate to your heirs. No one is entitled to an inheritance. Sometimes our clients want to leave more of their assets to less fortunate family members. However, this can lead to the more financially stable heirs feeling resentful or hurt. You can avoid the potential conflict by dividing an estate equally among beneficiaries, but that is not always what is best. Your family may be better served with unequal distributions to your heirs. In that case, explanatory language or a family meeting can help minimize hurt feelings at a later date. Your estate planning attorney can help you communicate to your family why “fair” is not the same as “equal.”
We have observed in our estate planning and probate law firm that conflicts also arise when multiple family members are named as joint trustees, personal representatives, or executors. It can be easier to administer a probate, estate, or trust with only one person accountable for the final decisions. If your heirs aren’t qualified to serve in this role or do not get along already, we recommend appointing a neutral third party with legal and financial background or a corporate trustee. We encourage our clients to choose the decision makers in their estate plan wisely. Never appoint someone to be in charge of your assets merely because of gender, birth order, or because you do not want to hurt their feelings.
We recommend that our clients clearly communicate their wishes to their family members during their lifetime. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to share all of your private details, but it does mean that you tell your family you have thoughtfully prepared an estate plan and your estate planning attorney can help them navigate interpreting them at your death. You may choose to talk through some of your decisions if you think your family members will be surprised.
By letting your family members know about your estate plan, you mitigate much of the contempt that is so often brought on by secrecy.
For those concerned about problematic beneficiaries who may squander generational wealth, disinheritance is not the only solution, and may backfire if it fuels a legal challenge. One alternative to disinheritance is use of a discretionary trust. This type of trust requires that the beneficiary’s share be held by a neutral, third-party trustee, like a bank or trust company, and distributed to the beneficiary in the time and manner you have described. A discretionary trust enables you to provide for your beneficiary without the worry that the money will be wasted.
It is incredibly important for people of all ages to prepare estate plans and update them routinely. While it can be difficult to talk about money with your loved ones, looping them into your plans now is a good way to prevent fights over assets once you are gone.
By keeping your estate plan up to date and working with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can reduce the likelihood that your will or trust will being contested or that your family will be torn apart by a bitter legal battle. If you’re eager to create and maintain an estate plan that maintain family peace and harmony–and also will be difficult to overturn–call Littleton Legal today at (918) 608-1836. We work hard to ensure the wishes of our clients are carried out with fidelity. No matter your goals, we aim to protect the assets you’ve acquired and secure financial stability for the next generation (and, if desired, beyond).