Confronting one’s own mortality is often an uncomfortable and difficult thing to do, which is why so many people postpone their estate planning until – in some cases – it is too late. But any estate planning attorney will agree that it is far better to make the difficult decisions about the distribution of your assets on your passing now, than to pass away having left no record of your wishes, which could lead to divisive family disputes and costly legal battles. No family is perfect, and anything from long-standing family feuds, to the amount of money at stake, to uncertainties in the will arising from poor legal drafting, could cause a dispute to arise. Consider taking these simple steps below in order to avoid potential family inheritance disputes arising from your will.
Plan your estate sooner rather than later
While we’d all like to believe that we have many years ahead of us to set up our estate plans, and that doing so is not a matter of urgency, it is much better to sort out your estate now while you are fit and healthy, than to do so when you are in an ill or mentally compromised state. Nobody can know what tomorrow may bring – but, you can at least rest assured that your assets will be properly distributed regardless, by being proactive and consulting your estate planning attorney. The chances of your estate distribution being contested are much greater if you die without a will, and in particular, if you write your will while you are ill or of reduced mental function. For example, family members may contest whether you had the requisite testamentary capacity to write your will, whether you truly intended the distribution set out in your will, and whether you were perhaps influenced by a loved one or even a caregiver to make certain distributions. If you plan for your estate while in a mentally sound and physically healthy state, your family is far more likely to avoid expensive probate proceedings and legal disputes.
Consult with your loved ones about your estate plan
Your family may not want to talk about the distribution of your assets on your death – after all, it is a morbid and depressing topic. Ultimately though, it is in their own best interests to understand your intentions and the reasons why you have made the allocations you have. Your family will likely be more respectful of your wishes if they are communicated while you are still alive. Any questions they have can be answered, and you will have the opportunity to alleviate any concerns. You may even want to take your family’s views into account when you formally plan your estate, to ensure everyone is provided for as effectively as possible.
Setting up a living trust for your family
Setting up a revocable living trust is an excellent way to provide for your family after your passing while at the same time avoiding probate. Probate is the official process by which an individual’s estate is administered and distributed upon their death. The assets and property which you transfer to the trust will be administered by a trustee during your lifetime (usually you yourself), and upon your death the assets will be immediately distributed by your successor Trustee without having to be probated. By avoiding probate, you will reduce the potentiality for family conflicts, as well as avoid legal fees and costly taxes.
Ensure you estate plan is up-to-date
Your personal circumstances may change, your family may grow in number, tax and estate laws may be amended – there are a number of reasons why it is a good idea for you to review your estate plan every few years or so, or as circumstances arise. Births, deaths, divorces and remarriages in the family are all occurrences which may necessitate changes to your will, in order to avoid any distribution disputes arising from circumstances which you did not account for at the time of planning your estate. Furthermore, as new tax laws are developed, you may want to take advantage of any tax benefits which the amendments make available to you.
Obtain advice from your estate planning attorney
There are a number of testamentary mechanisms which you can make use of in order to best provide for your family after your passing. However, to properly understand the options available and which estate structures would best suit you, it is highly recommended that you consult your estate planning attorney. An estate planning attorney will have the expertise to advise you on which testamentary clauses are most likely to lead to a family dispute, to inform you of the latest developments in tax law, and to guide you on any difficult decisions to be made. If you’re seeking estate planning advice, don’t hesitate to call the offices of Gary I. Handin, P.A. – with over 40 years’ legal experience, there’s no estate planning problem we can’t solve.