While it’s not pleasing to think about, there are families who are torn apart when a family member passes away. If this happens, things can get quite messy. Families might even end up in court going up head-to-head with one another.
You have spent a lifetime building your estate. The last thing you want is for it to trigger anger, resentment, and frustration among the people you love. Here are four ways that might decrease the likelihood that your family contests your will and falls out of favor with one another after you pass.
Be open and communicate.
It is a good idea to talk to your loved ones about what is in your will and why. Many families find it helpful to discuss how personal property will be divided well ahead of a loved one’s passing. You don’t need to discuss what and how much each person will be receiving if you aren’t comfortable with that or if there’s a chance the specifics may change.
You can, however, explain how you plan to divide the property and why you’ve decided to do it the way you chose. If one person is getting a larger share of the estate than another, explain your reasons. Even if they don’t agree with your reasoning, at least they will know why you made the decision – this can go a long way toward avoiding future disagreements and litigation between your loved ones.
Review your estate documents regularly.
Regularly check that your will is up to date and properly executed. And make sure you take all the precautions your attorney suggests to make your will and other estate plan documents air-tight. Having a well-executed estate plan will let you stop fights before they start – because you will be the one making the decisions.
In general, it’s a good idea to review your plan regularly to ensure it reflects your current situation. Significant changes to your family relationships (i.e., marriages, divorces, births, etc.) and additions or subtractions of assets may affect how you wish to distribute your property. Your wishes and priorities may have changed since you created your estate plan or will. That’s reason enough for an update.
Additionally, many people who set up their plans with other attorneys either never fully understood what was in their estate planning documents or have forgotten what they included. Do not ignore a section of your estate planning documents if you do not understand it. Call your attorney and request an explanation. If your attorney cannot or will not give you an answer you understand, consider working with someone better prepared to explain your documents and the impact they will have on you and your family.
Check beneficiary designations.
You should carefully examine beneficiary designations on cash accounts, investments, life insurance, and retirement accounts such as IRA and 401k accounts. The designations should match how you’ve specified their distribution in your estate plan.
In some cases, parents name their first child or first spouse. But then fail to update the beneficiary after more children are born or after a divorce. Or worse, no one is listed as the primary beneficiary, which is often the case with cash accounts because you usually aren’t prompted by the bank to do so when you open the account.
In most states, the name listed on the beneficiary designation form will trump whatever the will or trust states. Beneficiary designations can also have significant legal and tax consequences. You must work with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney to help you determine how best to name beneficiaries for your bank, life insurance, investment, and retirement accounts. Not doing so can create a surprising or contentious situation when you pass away.
Spend more time together as a family.
Lastly, consider using a portion of the money you would otherwise leave to your loved ones to bring them together while you are still here. There is much less chance of friction between family members who have strong bonds. Plus, you and they will cherish the memories for years (a big win for everyone!).
To learn more about how you can protect your estate and your family, do not hesitate to call our team of experienced estate planning attorneys at Mortellaro Law at 813-551-1072.