Few things may prompt someone to begin the serious work of making an estate plan than to watch someone else's family implode after his or her death. If you recently witnessed the adult children of a friend or family member break into factions as they disputed what should happen to the estate, you may have resolved to begin immediately to draft clear and complete instructions for your own family.
However, even with a will, you may leave your family with unanswered questions that lead to confusion and arguments. Sadly, it is not uncommon for divisions that occur after the loss of a parent to linger throughout the lives of the children. For this reason, you may wish to enlist the help of an experienced professional so you have every chance of creating an estate plan that your loved ones will not contest.
Heading off any arguments
Perhaps the most common mistake parents make is to put off estate planning until it is too late. Without a will or other directives, your children may have no choice but to guess at what you would have wanted and to project their own desires into the distribution of your assets. As you make your plan, you can take the following steps to reduce the chances that your kids will bicker over your estate:
- Consider the benefits and flexibility of including trusts in your plan, which can include incentives for your loved ones and protect them from tax ramifications.
- Discuss your plans with your family, especially if your choices may be surprising, such as disinheriting someone or including conditions in your trust.
- Make sure your estate plan has a no-contest clause, which discourages anyone from disputing your plans by cutting out those who make unsuccessful challenges.
- Keep your plan in a safe place but where your family can find it when the time comes.
- Review your plan at least once a year, and be sure your family knows you are doing this so they realize you are giving careful thought to your decisions.
The options for contesting a will are limited, including proving that you did not have adequate mental capacity to understand what you were doing when you executed the document. You can reduce the chances that your loved ones will drag each other to court over your estate plan if you work with a skilled attorney and communicate your wishes to your family.