No matter how well you think you know your loved ones, it’s impossible to predict how they’ll behave when you die or if you become incapacitated.
Family dynamics are complicated and prone to conflict even during the best of times. But when tragedy strikes a family, even minor tensions and disagreements can explode. And when access to money or sentimental items are on the line, the potential for discord is exponentially increased. Ultimately, there is no greater cost to families than lost relationships after the death or incapacity of a loved one.
By becoming aware of some of the leading causes of conflict over your estate plan, you’re in a better position to prevent those situations. The following issues are among the most common catalysts for conflict.
Poor Fiduciary Selection
Many disputes occur when a person you’ve chosen to handle your affairs following your death or incapacity fails to properly carry out his or her responsibilities.
The individual you select, known as a fiduciary, is legally required to execute those duties and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries named in your plan. The failure to do either of those things is referred to as a breach of fiduciary duty.
The breach can be the result of the person’s deliberate action, or it could be something they do unintentionally by mistake.
Solution: Given the immense responsibilities involved, you must be careful when selecting your fiduciaries, and make sure everyone knows why you chose the person you did.
It’s crucial that your estate planning documents contain clear terms spelling out a fiduciary’s responsibilities and duties, so the individual understands exactly what’s expected of him or her.
Contesting the Validity of Wills and Trusts
The validity of your will and/or trust can be contested in court for a few different reasons. If such a contest is successful, the court declares your will or trust invalid, which effectively means the document(s) never existed in the first place.
Just because someone disagrees with what they received in your will or trust doesn’t mean that person can contest it. Whether or not the individual agrees with the terms of your plan is irrelevant—it is your plan after all. Rather, they must prove that your plan is invalid (and should be thrown out) based on legal grounds.
Solution: There are times when family members might contest your will and/or trust over legitimate concerns, such as if they believe you were tricked or coerced into changing your plan by an unscrupulous caregiver.
Here, we’re addressing – contests that are attempts by disgruntled family members and/or would-be beneficiaries seeking to improve the benefit they received through your plan. We’re also seeking to prevent contests that are a result of disputes between members of blended families.
It’s vital to make sure your plan is properly created and maintained to ensure these individuals will not have any legal ground to contest your will or trust. It is important to include clear language that you are making the choices of your own free will, so no one will be able to challenge your wishes by claiming your incapacity or duress.
Blended Families Increase Likelihood for Conflict
The potential for dispute is significantly increased if you have a blended family. If you are in a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior relationship, your children and spouse often have conflicting interests.
Solution: It’s crucial that your estate plan contain clear and unambiguous terms spelling out the beneficiaries’ exact rights, along with the rights and responsibilities of executors and/or trustees. Such precise terms help ensure all parties know exactly what you intended.
Prevent Disputes Before They Happen
The best way to deal with estate planning disputes is put planning strategies in place aimed at anticipating and avoiding common sources of conflict and informing your loved ones of your wishes while you are alive.
This article is a service of the Law Office of Lasca A. Arnold, PLLC. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed decisions about life and death.