No one wants to think that the final wishes they set forth in their will or trust may be derailed by a contentious legal battle between family members. Here are four tips that may go a long way toward avoiding a challenge by your heirs.
First – keep communications open. It may be unnecessary or you may be uncomfortable about disclosing specific details, but neither do you want to keep them wondering. Minimally it is a good idea to advise your family that you have created an estate plan that sets forth your final wishes and who they should contact if you become incapacitated or die. This also can reinforce that you have made your own critical decisions.
Second – be aware of options for problem beneficiaries. There are some alternatives to disinheritance that you can use where you feel that a potential beneficiary will squander an inheritance or utilize it improperly. Instead of completely disinheriting the beneficiary, you can require that their inheritance be held in a lifetime discretionary trust, with a third party trustee. The trust can determine the conditions under which the beneficiary is entitled to disbursements.
Third – obtain competent assistance. You should be especially cautious about doing your own estate planning. This is especially critical if you already have a legitimate concern about family members battling over your will or trust or if you have sophisticated estate planning needs. An experienced estate planning attorney can help create and maintain a plan that discourages a contest.
Fourth – review your estate planning periodically. You should consider that each time you have a life changing circumstance, at least every other year, you should review your estate plan and update where appropriate. Although some people like to think of estate planning as a transaction, it should actually be an ongoing process that you fine-tune with the passage of time. And an up to date plan can discourage challenges since it should reflect your current wishes.
These four planning tips could go a long way toward helping your loved ones avoid a potentially disastrous battle that could tear them apart and rapidly deplete the estate.