One huge reason to do estate planning “right” — avoid estate litigation and family feuding. Estate planning isn’t something we do for ourselves… we get our legal and financial house in order to protect and provide for our loved ones.
Family feuding can destroy relationships… I’ve seen it many times. Yet, an ounce of prevention is worth its weight in gold.
This article on yahoo’s finance page from US News caught my eye today…”8 Tips to Avoid Nasty Estate Surprises”
The article mentioned that estate litigation was on the rise. The premise that estate litigation is on the rise was not based on any serious statistical date, but rather on anecdotes from lawyers around the country. I don’t doubt that estate litigation is on the rise, I just wanted to indicate any percentages were guestimates.
The article also mentioned two key factors that likely are leading to the increased estate litigation — the downturn in the economy (declining estates — whether through decreased real estate value, stock values, and other investments) and a 20 year shift to more blended families and a more segmented society.
The article then discussed 8 tips to avoid future litigation. You may not agree with all 8 of the tips… but there is a common theme… in order to minimize estate litigation and family feuding, hire a good lawyer to do an estate plan. Have your lawyer regularly update your plan and talk with those in your plan about your plan. Another good tip in the article was to include a no contest clause and to have a mediation clause for those who seek to challenge the trust or any will.
With regard to discussing your plan and your intentions with your loved ones, this flies in the face of conventional practice. Typically, parents design plans and then don’t tell the kids or grandkids about the plan. It’s supposed to be a big secret — especially if they decide to favor someone, or disinherit someone, or do something else that is likely to be controversial or conflict inducing later. Avoiding conflict is a way of life for many. Truth be told, my natural inclination is to avoid conflict too.
Yet, after becoming engrossed in conflict resolution training as a mediator and working with parties to resolve conflict, I discovered that although we may feel uncomfortable at times, getting things out in the open is much more productive then leaving a mess for those who are left behind. Of course, difficult conversations are never easy — and you have to have the fortitude to stick with your guns and hold your ground on your decisions. After all, it is YOUR estate and YOUR plan. In my experience, one reason people don’t want to discuss their wishes with people is because 1) they don’t want to upset people (but they will be more upset after you’re gone); or 2) they don’t want people who don’t like their decisions to put pressure on them to change their mind. It’s true that depending on family dynamics, there may be family members who will pressure you to change your mind. It’s helpful to have an advocate (your lawyer) who will help you stand by your decisions and to do what you think is best. It can be empowering for everyone for you to speak the truth in love.
So, I am all for difficult conversations. They are difficult for a reason, but if handled with love and honesty, the end result is so worth it.
If you have ever experienced family feuding or broken familial relationships, then you will understand how devastating this can be. My dad’s family had its share of family feuds. It was for this reason, that he emphasized with us over and over that he wanted us kids to be friends, and not to fight, and to get along. Nothing was worth destroying the familial relationships. I think that is why after he died, even though we didn’t agree on everything, and even though his plan wasn’t up to date and had a lot of problems, we are still friends. My brother was upset about the fact my dad had me act as trustee, but he is getting over it. Plus, as a lawyer, I was able to save us thousands of dollars in putting together the pieces of an estate plan that was not updated, a trust that wasn’t fully funded, and an overall plan that was a mess (still better than no plan!).
The point of this story is that creating a comprehensive estate plan, that is updated regularly (so that it accounts for changes in the law, or changes in the value of your assets), is important to create a plan that will work. In addition, planning isn’t something that we do for ourselves, it’s something that we do for those we love who will be here when we are gone.
If you can create a rock solid plan that will work, and talk with your family or loved ones about your wishes, even if they may be unpopular, you will take huge strides toward avoiding estate litigation and family feuding down the road.
As a personal family lawyer, we work with clients over their lifetime. We regularly update our clients’ estate plans and have a system in place to provide ongoing advice and counsel.
Because your legacy is about so much more than just money, avoiding family feuds and future litigation is a great reason to get your legal and financial house in order now. If you need someone that also has training as a mediator and dealing with conflict, then let me know. I’m here to serve you.
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