Avoiding Family Disputes and Litigation Over Your Will or Trust

Family dispute concept

One of the goals of a properly-prepared estate plan is to avoid a family dispute after a loved one passes away. When planning and preparing your estate plan, it is wise to consider some of the issues that can divide a family so you can craft your estate plan in a way that will avoid them.

Unfortunately, disputes over an inheritance often arise due to long-standing family differences, unhelpful advice from your children’s significant others, or simply because there is a large amount of money at stake. These disputes can result in long lasting family disputes, or even worse, years of probate court litigation that prevents property and assets from being distributed.

With proper planning, advice and assistance from an experienced estate planning attorney, and a proactive approach to your estate plan, you can avoid many of the most common reasons for family disputes over your will or trust.

Talk to Your Family Sooner Rather Than Later

Starting a conversation about your estate plan can feel difficult. Some people don’t like to seriously consider the possibility of their own death. Others don’t feel comfortable talking about inheritance money and property. But having an honest and forthright conversation about your wishes as you near the end of your life and after your death can actually help avoid family disputes during your final days and after you have passed.

Having an open and honest conversation with your family about what you want to happen in your final days and how you want your property to be distributed when you are gone will help your family understand why you made the decisions you did, and can avoid some of the misunderstandings that lead to disputes and litigation over your will or trust.

Prepare Your Estate Planning Documents

A common mistake people make that leads to a family dispute and probate litigation is not setting up a comprehensive estate plan in the first place. Many people, especially those who are young and healthy, avoid meeting with an attorney to prepare an estate plan because they do not anticipate needing one soon.

But the best time to set up your estate plan is now, when you are of sound mind. If you have a family, it is wise to put a plan in place that will protect and provide for them in the event that something unexpected happens. By preparing your estate plan when you are of sound mind, you also make it less likely that your estate plan will be challenged on the basis that you lacked the mental capacity to properly execute your will or were unduly influenced.

Keep Your Estate Planning Documents Up to Date

As your life evolves, so too must your estate plan. If you have a young family, you will have one set of estate planning needs. But as your family gets older, your needs and theirs will change. You should periodically update your estate plan to ensure that it accurately reflects your current situation and your wishes and desires about what will happen to your property upon your death.

You should consider revising your estate plan when major life changes occur, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one. Any of these can trigger changes in your estate plan, and your estate planning documents will need to be updated to reflect your new family situation. You also need to review your estate plan to ensure that it keeps pace with changes to tax and estate laws to take advantage of tax benefits and avoid penalties.

Include “Protective Measures” in Your Estate Plan

A properly prepared estate plan will identify beneficiaries in the event of your death, as well as people who will serve as your fiduciary and protect your minor children if you become incapacitated. Your plan should identify your power of attorney for financial and propety matters and other fiduciaries who can legally take action on your behalf if you are unable to act for yourself. You can also appoint someone who will make healthcare decisions as your patient advocate if you are unable to make them yourself.

By including these provisions in your estate plan, you decrease the likelihood that there will be a family dispute about what you would have wanted and who has the power to act on your behalf. And by identifying the person or people that you want to handle your affairs, you avoid a situation in which the court nominates “any suitable person” to act as your legal guardian or conservator, which can occur when you are unable to make your own decisions but have not clearly expressed your intent about who you want to have handle your affairs.

Have Your Estate Documents Prepared By a Qualified Attorney

Finally, work with an experienced professional to ensure that your estate planning documents are properly prepared. An estate planning attorney will prepare your estate planning documents so they say what you mean and will have them properly prepared and executed.

Another common cause of probate litigation is when estate planning documents have been prepared but were not properly executed. An improperly-prepared will, power of attorney, trust, or other document may be considered invalid by the court, and your estate will be handled as if the documents were never prepared at all.

We Can Help You Prepare an Estate Plan to Prevent a Family Dispute

Ann Arbor estate planning attorney Bill Ager has been in practice since 1982. He has extensive experience helping people identify their estate planning needs, and preparing documents to translate their goals into reality.

Learn more about Bill Ager’s estate planning services and his commitment to charging reasonable flat fees. Then call (734) 649-0784, email bill@agerlawoffice.com, or use our online contact form to speak with Bill about your estate planning needs.