Perhaps because of Hollywood or other fictional portrayals—Knives Out being a recent (and fun) cinematic example—wills and inheritances seem to not bring out the best in people. Most people don’t want to think about the potential for a family fight when it comes to planning their estate.
But, as the old saying goes, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail.’ It’s not just planning for animosity or sibling rivalry—what if your wishes aren’t clear? What if your estate goes through probate and causes misunderstandings opening the family to a stressful and public process? Probate is something you can avoid with the right planning, but you have to take care of now to prevent probate from happening through smart planning and communication.
Consider the following questions in terms of your estate plan—if any of the answers are less than a resounding ‘yes’, talk to our team at Family Estate Planning Law Group about how to prevent the possibility of a family feud over your estate.
Did you start early enough?
Proper estate planning is thorough and is adjusted over time. But there are elements that need to be done early on—both for the sake of laying the foundation of your estate plan and to be there in case the worst might happen unexpectedly.
Make sure you’ve established elements like a power of attorney, health care proxy, and living trust. Having these in place ensures that the people you want executing your estate, handling medical and financial decisions, and receiving your assets are the ones who will. This is not a complete estate plan, but it has the primary elements in place should the unexpected happen.
Have you included your family in the process?
At Family Estate Planning Law Group, we host Family Care Meetings ™ that include family members in the planning process. You decide who should be present and what should be covered in order to make it known to your family what your wishes are for the future. It’s an important way to prevent potential disputes or surprises.
Not only is it hard to get across the emotion and nuance behind your estate decisions through a legal document formally read, it can be much different when a family member hears about a decision on your estate for the first time only after you’re gone. By including your family in the process we can help them learn some of the complexities of the estate plan, such as managing a living trust.
Have you made arrangements to dictate your wishes?
Combining the first two points above, you ought to have specific conversations about the roles of responsibility in your estate plan. It is good for people to have some idea now what they may need to do later. The hardest time to learn something new is in the midst of crisis or grief.
It’s good to communicate to your family about how you decide to divide your assets among them after you’re gone. But should you become incapacitated for any reason and unable to make your own financial or medical decisions, it opens a new possibility for arguments and hurt feelings.
Furthermore, use this opportunity to explain your feelings on life-extending care in cases of dire incapacitation. Have a constructive and positive conversation about these things while you’re still in good health of mind and body so there are no misunderstandings later.
Are you updating as life changes?
No estate plan works as a ‘set it and forget it’ solution. Your life changes as time marches on—from a divorce happening in the family to buying a sailboat. When your family, wealth or health changes, your estate plan should follow suit.
Divorce is a particularly good example because it can happen anywhere in your family and create new considerations for your estate plan. If one of your children gets divorced and remarries, how should that alter the assignment of your assets? In addition to changes in family situation, updating and keeping your assets aligned with your estate plan ensures that there are no mistakes that could lead to understandable disputes. Our team will work alongside you and your family throughout life as changes occur.
Are you utilizing a trust?
Using a trust is one of the best ways to make your estate decisions clear while also reducing stress on your surviving family members. A trust will help your estate avoid probate while also allowing for equal shares of assets among your children and directly assigning other assets to those you see fit; however, a trust will only help you accomplish your planning goals if your assets are aligned accordingly.
Our team at Family Estate Planning Law Group can help you through all of these facets of estate planning and the changes that pop up along the way through our ongoing client care program. Talk to us about how to set up a strong estate plan that also reduces the possibility of disputes among your family after you’re gone. For more information, we invite you to browse our Family Estate Planning Law Group website, explore our blog, and schedule your complimentary consultation today.