A properly drafted estate plan can ensure your wishes are followed both during your lifetime and after you are gone. It is important to clearly state your wishes in your estate plan. You will not be here to explain, clarify, or correct errors after you pass away. When you create your estate plan, you should consider the possibility of family disputes. The attorneys at Wilcox Attorneys, PA discuss what you can do to prevent disputes over your estate before and after you are gone.
Family Disputes are Fairly Common
Family disputes following the death of celebrities or the ultra-wealthy make headlines on a regular basis. If you are not a celebrity and/or are not wealthy, you may make the mistake of assuming the likelihood of a family dispute over your estate is low. In reality family disputes are just as likely to occur when an estate is modest in value as they are when the estate involves millions of dollars.
Typically, family squabbles that already existed fuel legal battles over an estate. Regardless of why these disputes started, they can end up causing probate litigation. Heirs can claim they were unintentionally left out of a Will, or that the Testator lacked the requisite capacity to execute the Will, or that the Will was the product of undue influence.
Sadly, family disputes can erupt even before you pass away. If you become incapacitated, your family members may argue over who should be appointed as your legal guardian or who has the legal right to make healthcare decisions for you. These decisions include the decision to refuse life-sustaining treatment.
Tips to Help Prevent Family Disputes Over You and Your Estate
A important objective in estate planning is to prevent disputes both before and after your demise. An absolute guarantee there will be no dispute is impossible. However, following these tips can significantly diminish the likelihood disputes will occur.
- Update Your Will. Your Will provides explicit instructions regarding the distribution of your assets after your death. To ensure that your Will reflects your current family circumstances and wishes, make sure your Will is updated on a regular basis. If you decide to disinherit someone, consult your estate planning attorney for the appropriate language to achieve this objective. NEVER update a will by writing on it.
- Choose the Right Executor. Your chosen Executor plays a pivotal role in overseeing the probate of your estate. Choosing the right executor can increase or decrease the likelihood of a dispute. Select someone who can remain level-headed under pressure and can comprehend legal intricacies. It is also important your Executor understands your family dynamics and commands the respect of family members.
- Undergo a Physical Examination Right before Executing Your Will. In the event you believe a will contest is likely, have a comprehensive physical exam right before you sign your Will. This exam can serve as evidence of your mental capacity and state of mind when you executed your Will.
- Rely on a Trust for Incapacity. With a revocable living trust, you can transfer control of trust assets to another individual during periods of your incapacity. That same trust can protect beneficiaries who have special needs, non-citizen spouses, or blended families.
- Have Advance Directives in Place. An Advance Directive lets you pre-designate who will make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot make those decisions yourself. You may even make specific medical treatment decisions that become effective if you become incapacitated.
- Consider Explaining Your Decisions: It may be helpful in some cases to openly discuss the decisions you’ve made in your estate plan. It can help prepare family members for the plan’s eventual implementation. If you prefer not to divulge these details in advance, consider including a Letter of Instruction in your plan. Although it is not legally binding, a letter can provide clarity to your heirs regarding your estate plan.
Are You Interested in Ways to Prevent Disputes Over Your Estate?
For additional information, please sign up for one of our FREE estate planning webinars. To discuss what you can do to prevent disputes over your estate, contact the experienced Northwest Arkansas estate planning attorneys at Wilcox Attorneys, PA. Call 479-443-0062 and schedule your appointment today.
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