Many families do not encounter problems when settling a loved one’s estate. However, when issues surrounding inheritance arise, it can bring out the worst in people. Each family’s circumstances are different, and an experienced wills and estate attorney can help you understand the most effective way to set up your estate so the settlement process runs smoothly.
Set Up an Estate Plan as Early as Possible
Most young people do not think about estate planning or what may happen after they are gone. However, the best time to create and implement one is when you are physically healthy and of sound mind. Illness or advanced age can easily open the door to disputes if you do not have a will or other estate planning documents in place.
For example, if one of your adult children is your caregiver and you create a Will while under their care, other family members may contest it, claiming your caregiving child had undue influence on you or that you did not have the testamentary capacity when your will was signed. If your estate plan has been in place for many years, it is much less likely to be contested on the basis of whether you were of sound mind.
Consider a Living Trust
Putting assets and property in a revocable living trust can be an effective way to cut down on family disputes. You have access to any monies or property in the trust while you are alive, and can add or remove them at any time. Upon your death, the assets are either distributed according to the terms of the trust or held in the trust to be distributed to beneficiaries in the future, as specified by you.
Trusts are also valuable tools for helping your family avoid probate, which can be a lengthy and expensive process, especially when an estate is contested. Speaking with probate attorneys about your specific situation can help you understand your options.
Talk with Your Loved Ones About Your Estate Plan
Conversations about planning for what will happen after your death are challenging. However, making your objectives clear to family members and talking out any differences ahead of time can be beneficial for everyone involved. If you communicate openly about why you are distributing certain assets to particular people and why some potential heirs may not be included in your estate, your loved ones can get a better understanding of your intentions.
Being very specific about the distribution of items that have more emotional significance than monetary value can also cut down on inheritance disputes. You may even want to gift these items while you are still alive.
Keep Your Plan Up to Date
Life changes such as divorce, remarriage, the birth of children, and other events often alter family dynamics and lead to conflict if they are not properly addressed. In addition, ever-changing tax laws may affect the way your estate plan should be set up to ensure your loved ones’ inheritance is maximized. Checking in yearly with your estate law attorney and making any necessary changes can help to ensure your wishes are accurately reflected in your estate plan. If you own significant real estate investments, it is prudent to consult with your real property lawyer periodically as well.
Our attorneys can assist you with drafting a well-crafted estate plan that reduces conflict between family members and diminishes the likelihood of inheritance disputes.