Fighting over trust terms or inheritance is divisive and expensive. Family members become enemies, and wealth that might have been passed on goes instead toward attorneys’ fees. In most cases, avoiding future disputes is a significant reason the settlor (the person setting up a trust) completed his/her estate plan in the first place. What can you do to prevent, or defend against, a dispute that might arise? The long-standing adage that “the best defense is a good offense” gives helpful direction. If you have a good offense in the form of properly drafted and updated documents, your estate plan can withstand legal challenges and effectively distribute your estate according to your wishes.
In shoring up your offense, start with finding a qualified attorney who will help you develop an estate plan specifically tailored to your needs and desires. It is the attorney’s job to make sure you understand how the pieces of your estate plan work together and to properly draft the necessary documents.
Your attorney can also guide you in selecting fiduciaries and funding your trust. It is important to pick the right person(s) for the job—your trustee and agent for financial matters might have different talents than someone you name as a health care agent. Naming the right person for the job is more important than appeasing others by trying to be “fair.” This is especially important if your family dynamics are complicated, or strained, in any way. It is equally important to title assets in the name of your trust so they will be transferred in the manner you wish.
Once your plan is in place, keep it updated. As you age and your life changes, make sure your estate plan reflects those changes. If your children have grown up into responsible adults, you may not want to restrict their access to inherited funds. If you have divorced and remarried, you should ensure your ex-spouse and current spouse are both receiving what you intend. Failing to update your estate plan to reflect your desires and your updated family situation is a leading reason family members sue over estate issues.
When creating your estate plan, you will have the opportunity to write a list of designating beneficiaries for personal property items. For this list, remember that sentimental objects are equally important as those with significant monetary value. Along these lines, make sure to outline your funeral and burial preferences. Fighting over a sentimental item or a deceased loved one’s ashes is common and leads to litigation more often than you would imagine. Families have been known to spend far more in a fight than an item is worth.
To avoid the heartache and expense of future legal disputes over your estate, we urge you to plan well and to plan ahead. While you can’t stop someone from suing, if you stay on the offense, your attorney will have an easy time defending your plan and preserving your estate to be distributed according to your wishes. Contact our office today.