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Keeping the Peace After You Are Gone

Planning With an Aim Toward Building Unity

A will or trust contest can wreak havoc on families. The conflict can result in 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.  Careful estate planning can help you substantially reduce the risk, or even avoid this problem entirely.

Below are a few of the ways you can build your estate plan to minimize family conflicts after you are 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 An out-of-date plan can become misaligned with your goals, new laws, and policies, rendering it less effective and more likely to generate conflict (the last thing you want).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 key players in carrying out your estate plan. Make sure you have thoughtfully selected the right people to carry out your estate plan. A few of the key individuals you will select:
    • Successor Trustee: This person will manage your trust’s assets when you are unable to do so.
    • Executor: This person is appointed in your will to manage your estate probate, if needed. In many cases, you may select the same person as your successor trustee. However, if you do not, remember that your executor must work closely with your successor trustee to ensure everything is handled smoothly and in a timely fashion.
    • Health Care Proxy: This person is authorized to communicate with your medical providers and make medical decisions if you are unable to do so.
    • Financial Agent: This person is authorized to make financial decisions on your behalf and will likely need to work closely with your successor trustee, or you may designate the same person to serve in both roles.
  • Do not 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 could mean your estate is not distributed how you would like it to be. Let your estate planning attorney do the heavy lifting — we are 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 are not beneficiaries)? It can be a very tricky subject to broach; but if you foresee hurt feelings, be 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. It is always incredibly important to know the reasons in order to develop a rock-solid legal strategy for 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 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.
  • 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 the wealth you are leaving does not become a distraction or point of contention.
  • Create a “Life’s Important Checklist:”  When you are getting your estate in order, there are many accounts, policies, documents, and other information to organize, and the list of to-do’s can quickly become overwhelming. Putting all your most important information into a checklist (like our “Life’s Important Checklist”) will relieve a big burden on your family if anything should happen to you, and you can relax knowing everything is in order.  (Be sure to place the completed checklist with your other estate planning documents so it is easily located.)  

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 trust is invalid, chaos can break loose and your intended beneficiaries can lose their inheritances. Typical reasons a family member might use to contest your plan are that the will was not signed, you did not 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 the attorneys at MendenFreiman help you make sure none of these events unfold. We are 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.

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