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Avoid Family Disputes and Will Contests with Proper Estate Planning

The media is fraught with tales of woe about young adults squandering their parents’ amassed wealth within just a few years of their passing. In response to similar concerns, baby boomers – those in the U.S. born between 1946 and 1965 -are thinking twice about leaving everything to their children in their estate plans.

The U.S. Trust found that well more than half of today’s parents do not believe that their grown children are prepared to manage a financial inheritance. In fact, a recent study by the Insured Retirement Institute found that each year more and more baby boomers are leaving their life-long savings to favorite charities or organizations that reflect their values instead of having their children inherit everything. As people in Massachusetts and across the country experience this shift in behavior, some family members may have unrealized expectations after the death of a loved one.

Avoiding disputes

Death affects people differently. When heirs do not receive personal items or financial gifts that they long expected, their emotions may get the better of them. Long buried issues of sibling rivalry, jealously or resentment among various relatives will often come to a head as families gather to mourn a loss. In addition, as the probate and trust administration processes advance, little disagreements can quickly turn into legal battles.

Parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles obviously do not wish for their loved ones to become estranged from each other after they are gone. In order to help avert family disputes and potential will contests, people should do the following to prepare their heirs:

  • Write it down: A Wall Street Journal article revealed early this year that a majority of grown children most want those things that make a family unique, such as heirlooms and personal mementos. Most family disputes are about sentimental items of little to no financial value rather than money. Writing down which family members are to receive personal items can go a long way to smoothing relationships once you are not there to make your preferences known.
  • Communicate your intentions: As hard as it is to talk about end-of-life planning, it is important for people to communicate their intentions, establishing realistic expectations long beforehand. If you feel your children are doing well enough on their own or are concerned that they would handle an influx of money poorly, tell them the rationale behind your estate planning decisions now so they have the opportunity to get their questions answered.
  • Give lifetime gifts: If you have a special friend or favorite nephew or grandchild, consider giving them gifts during your lifetime rather than singling them out for special treatment after your death. Not only can it make it easier to have an equal distribution among your children or other relatives after you are gone, it can also be fun to watch the favored person enjoy your gift with you there.
  • Use special provisions: If you think that disagreements are unavoidable, you may wish to include special provisions in your estate planning documents that discourage in-fighting. A “no-contest clause” in a will or trust can bar the person who brings a lawsuit contesting your documents from collecting an inheritance.

No matter what your concerns are regarding setting up your estate plan or talking with your family about your plan, consult an attorney knowledgeable about issues of estate planning, probate and administration of your estate. An experienced lawyer can help you establish your long-term goals and can walk your family through the entire process after your death.

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