You’ve heard the stories, or even worse lived through it. Family members fighting each other for the inheritance of their deceased parents. Fights over homes, cars, jewelry, clothing or even, pets ensue.
These spats get so nasty that the heirs get ‘lawyered up” and take their siblings to court. Sometimes these legal disputes span decades and end up in the national news. Remember the infamous Anna Nicole Smith/J. Howard Marshall case? Other infamous inheritance cases such as Howard Hughes, James Brown also come to mind.
Granted, these are sensationalized court cases; however, they highlight the necessity of estate planning to “regular people”, like us. If your family doesn’t get its arrangements in order, they may have a messy and regrettable experience, too.
Estate Planning may not be a topic you want to discuss, but it is one that every family needs to have. It doesn’t matter what you may be worth or what possessions you may own. Here are a few steps that you can take to avoid probate (and hopefully hard feelings among your heirs) which could last a lifetime:
- Leave a list of personal property: Your cars, home, clothing, jewelry, artwork and any other pieces of property that you own needs to be itemized. Then, next to each item of property, put the name of who you want to have it. You may even want to put a sticker with the name of the person on each item to help keep track of who gets what.
- Open a line of communication with all heirs: Ask them if they want anything in particular. Keep a record of the conversations and make a list of specific requests.
- List any gifts or loans to family members: Parents may make loans or give gifts to children to help them through difficult times. List the names of the children and the loans and/or gifts that were given them.
- Avoid joint ownership: In this case, “joint ownership” is where a child jointly owns assets with their parents. An added beneficiary (such as real estate) exposes the parent donor to the co-owner’s liabilities and limits the donor to change his mind in the future.
- List spouse as primary and sole fiduciary: Your husband or wife should be the first and primary fiduciary.
- Balance needs of spouse and children: Your family members have different needs. One strategy is to assign most of the life insurance money to your spouse, while other property items (i.e. autos, clothing, etc.) go to your children.Consider your individual family member’s needs upon your death to achieve the best balance possible.
- Transition the family business: You can gradually hand over the family business while you and your spouse are still alive. Think about grooming your successors by giving them more responsibility and authority.
- Keep estate planning confidential: Your finances are your business only. Avoid discussing your estate plan at a dinner with friends or posting plans on social media. Also, don’t give a copy of your estate plan to your children or grandchildren. Once you share your plan, any changes you make to it may be questioned. Avoid the drama. Life changes and with those changes, your estate planning. Only you, your spouse and your estate lawyer should discuss your estate plans.
- Make funeral arrangements: Choose where you and your spouse will be buried, the funeral program, interment plans, and other detailed funeral instructions. If you’re choosing to be cremated, iron out all the details and make a clear plan for your remains. These arrangements will save a lot of headaches and embarrassment for your heirs.
You have seen what happens when estates aren’t planned well: family fights, hard feelings, embarrassment, fraud, and litigation. All of these outcomes can be avoided with a solid estate plan. Estate planning is a difficult task and easier if you don’t procrastinate. Don’t delay any longer!
A.K. Burton, PC, which serves the Washington,D.C. and Bethesda, MD area, has experienced and licensed individual estate planning advisers who can help you create a will that will meet you and your family’s needs. Contact us at (301) 365-1974 for more information or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.