Sadly, inheritance disputes are not just a problem we see in movies and tv shows where only blended families or fabulously wealthy folks are squabbling over wills, property and inheritance. Every time a loved one dies, estate litigation may arise, leaving the family to deal with the complicated process of settling the estate.
Even when there is little or no wealth at stake, or there is no second marriage with children who are “his, hers and ours,” friends and family members may not agree on the proper way to handle the deceased’s estate. Survivors often disagree on issues such as the disposition of personal property of sentimental value, the responsibility for raising the decedent’s minor kids (and even the allocation of pets!). All these can create conflict and tension and sometimes lead to lengthy and costly legal proceedings.
But why those endless disputes? One thing people may not think about until it is too late is what happens when there is a dispute over the estate? While you can’t always guarantee that all parties involved will agree on all aspects of estate administration, you can at least be aware of the things you can do to avoid these disputes! Here’s everything you need to know about estate disputes!
Communication Is Key!
We’ve all seen dramatic scenes on television or in movies where a surviving family is gathered in a lawyer’s office after a parent’s funeral. As the lawyer finishes reading the will or trust, someone faints or stands up furiously in protest, saying that “this is not what he wanted”. In short, they think they have been forgotten in a bequest by accident.
These errors may result from a lack of coordination of inheritance documents and inherent property rights, or a failure to update inheritance plans to reflect changes in tax law or family circumstances, such as divorce, adoption or births. Sometimes the dispute simply results from poor communication, both written and verbal, between family members.
P For Planning!
That’s why planning is primordial! By having a detailed estate plan in place well in advance of your death, chances of estate litigation can be mitigated. Any thorough planning process begins with identifying your goals.
What do you want to accomplish in your estate planning? Are you concerned about family conflicts? What about tax concerns? Will you keep assets in the family? Are you going to make gifts to children or grandchildren over time? If you don’t identify your goals, making a plan that meets your needs will be challenging.
The Slightest Mistake May Wreak Havoc!
Estate documents must strictly follow the formalities laws of the state. This includes having the right number of witnesses present and making sure that any changes or updates to the document are made compellingly. Be careful! Any error can call into question the validity of the entire report, making it another common cause of estate disputes.
Avoid Beating About the Bush!
Whether or not your personal property has a high monetary value, be specific about its distribution (don’t be like those dramatic actors). For example, don’t leave it up to your children to divide up your jewellery after you are gone. Choose the items you want each and every person to have and identify these items in your will or trust.
Don’t Dilly-Dally or Shilly-Shally!
Don’t wait for an emergency or an illness to set up an estate plan. The best time to make such a plan is when you are fit and in the right frame of mind to make decisions. This also helps avoid a suggestion that you made a plan under pressure or lacked capacity.
Obsolete Estate Plan Documents Can Cause Chaos
Another frequent source of tension is when the deceased has a succession document in place, such as a will, which is extremely old. This raises the question of whether the decedent really intended to keep this document as a final will or whether there are other reasons for ignoring past deeds.
Because life circumstances change with births, deaths, marriages, divorces and changes in ownership, it’s crucial to keep your documents up to date. You can review your testament every year (or at least every two years) and make any necessary changes!
Keep Your Documents in A Handy, Out of Harm’s Way
Make sure your documents are in a safe (but accessible) place. If no one can find your will or your trust, your thoughtful planning will have been wasted and your family will have to move forward using the state form and procedures for people who die intestate (without a will).
Respect the Contents of the Will
Last but not least, respect is the glue that holds it all! If your loved one has passed away and you’re among the heirs, it’s essential to respect the contents of the final will! Even if you did not always agree with him in life and his final choices, you must still respect his decisions!
Problems related to a person’s estate plans are delicate and often leave you (and your family) in an emotionally charged situation that can be difficult to understand. There are many causes for estate disputes and, unfortunately, once the conflict has begun, it means that all discussions and negotiations have come to an end. If you are involved in one of these disputes, make sure you speak to an experienced family and estate lawyer who can help you with your case. You can schedule an appointment with one of the many experienced lawyers at Oates Rennick & Associates. They’ll cover everything from start to finish!