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Avoiding Estate Litigation

May 16, 2024

Diane Kotkin

Q:  My best friend’s mom passed away and her brother is challenging her estate planning documents in Court. The situation is very stressful, and she says she will never speak with her brother after this fiasco. I have three children. How do I prevent a legal dispute when I die?

A:  When it comes to estate planning, many individuals have concerns about the potential for litigation among their loved ones after they pass away. Estate litigation can be emotionally and financially draining, and it can strain relationships among family members. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of estate litigation and ensure that your wishes are carried out smoothly.

1. Clearly communicate your wishes: One of the primary reasons for estate litigation is a lack of clarity in the deceased person's intentions. It is important to clearly articulate your wishes for the distribution of your assets and the execution of your estate plan. Make sure to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you draft a clear and comprehensive will, trust, or other legal documents.

2. Update your estate plan regularly: Life is constantly changing, and it's crucial to keep your estate plan up to date to reflect any changes in your family, finances, or goals. Failing to update your plan can create confusion and potential disputes among your beneficiaries. Review your estate plan every 3-5 years or after any significant life events, such as a marriage, divorce, birth, or death in the family.

3. Beneficiary Designations and Asset Titling: A great estate plan is no good if the asset titling and beneficiary designations are not aligned. Assets such as retirement accounts, life insurance, investment and bank accounts should have the correct titling/beneficiary designation to coincide with your estate planning strategy.

4. Choose the right executor or trustee: Selecting a reliable and trustworthy executor or trustee is essential to avoid conflicts and disputes among your beneficiaries. Make sure the person you choose has the necessary skills and experience to carry out your wishes effectively. Consider having a backup executor or trustee in case the primary one is unable or unwilling to fulfill their duties.

5. Communicate openly with your family: To avoid misunderstandings and conflicts, open and honest communication with your loved ones is crucial. Discuss your estate plan with your family members, especially those who are directly affected by it. Explain your decisions and intentions, providing them with an opportunity to ask questions or voice any concerns. This can help minimize surprises and misunderstandings after you are gone.

6. Seek professional advice: Consulting with a qualified estate planning attorney, financial advisor, or other professionals can provide you with valuable guidance and expertise. They can help ensure that your estate plan is legally valid, properly executed, and tailored to your specific needs and goals. Their professional advice can also help you navigate complex family dynamics and minimize the risk of potential conflicts.

Taking proactive steps to minimize the risk of estate litigation can provide peace of mind and help ensure that your estate is handled according to your wishes. By clearly communicating your intentions, regularly updating your estate plan, selecting the right executor or trustee, fostering open family communication, and seeking professional advice, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of disputes among your loved ones after your passing.


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