Estate Planning When Your Relationships Are Contentious
Planning your estate is not necessarily a difficult procedure. However, if your heirs are not on the best of terms, or if you don't trust your family or friends to handle your estate correctly, that can complicate matters.
Leaving your estate unplanned, resulting in an intestate death, is not the right way to deal with the situation. Instead, you do have options for creating an estate plan that tries to minimize the potential for feuds.
Any estate plan you create in this situation must contain specific instructions. If you can't trust your children not to fight over who gets what in your estate, for example, spell it out yourself. If there are any inequalities (one child getting a house and the other getting no property at all, for example), it may be best to explain why. If there are specific items that you want particular people to have, spell that out, too. Ensure the plans are witnessed and signed in accordance with state law to prevent claims in court that the plan is invalid due to a technicality.
Avoiding surprises at the will or trust reading is crucial to reducing the potential for disputes. Once you have created your estate plan, tell everyone who will be involved, including those who expect to get something even if you have not left anything to them. It may hurt now, but if people know what's coming when you die, they have less ground to stand on if they try to dispute the estate plan after your death.
No-contest clauses are an option, too, but they aren't always airtight. These basically state that a person will lose what inheritance you plan to leave him or her if he or she tries to contest the will or trust. The clauses can certainly reduce the chances of the person contesting the estate plan, but he or she could always decide to throw caution to the wind and contest anyway.
Work With Banks and Lawyers
If you are still not convinced that your family will refrain from fighting with the executor about your estate, you may want to make a bank or lawyer the executor. That won't stop someone from fighting the plans you made, but it does place a more neutral party in charge of completing your affairs and distributing inheritances. These parties may be less likely to be swayed by pleas from spurned family, and those family members may be less likely to try fighting your decision.
If you think you are in a bind due to family feuds, you may want to contact a law firm that helps clients with estate planning. These firms have lawyers who can provide clear language for the estate documents and who can guide you through all of the steps to set up a complete will, trust, or other type of plan.