A will or trust contest can derail your final wishes, rapidly deplete your estate, and tear your loved ones apart. Unfortunately, we have the opportunity to observe such contests on a regular basis, and even among families where no one expected there would be any controversy. Avoiding a will or trust contest can save family relationships and substantial financial resources. With proper estate planning, you can help your family avoid a potentially disastrous will or trust contest.
If you are concerned about challenges to your estate plan, consider the following:
- Do not attempt “do it yourself” solutions. If you are concerned about an heir contesting your estate plan, the last thing you want to do is attempt to write or update your will or trust on your own. Only an experienced estate planning attorney can help you put together and maintain an estate plan that will discourage lawsuits.
- Let family members know about your estate plan. When it comes to estate planning, secrecy breeds contempt. While it is not necessary to let your family members know all of the intimate details of your estate plan, you should let them know that you have taken the time to create a plan that spells out your final wishes and who they should contact if you become incapacitated or die.
- Use discretionary trusts for problem beneficiaries. You may feel that you have to completely disinherit a beneficiary because of concerns that a potential beneficiary will squander their inheritance or use it in a manner that is against your beliefs. However, there are other options than completely disinheriting someone. For example, you can require that the problem beneficiary’s share be held in a lifetime discretionary trust and name a third party, such as a bank or trust company, as trustee. This will insure that the beneficiary will only be entitled to receive trust distributions under terms and conditions you have dictated. You will also be able to control who will inherit the balance of the trust if the beneficiary dies before the funds are completely distributed.
- Keep your estate plan up to date. Estate planning is not a one-time transaction – it is an ongoing process. Therefore, as your circumstances change, you should update your estate plan. An up to date estate plan shows that you have taken the time to review and revise your plan as your family and financial situations change. This, in turn, will discourage challenges since your plan will encompass your current estate planning goals.
By following these four tips, your heirs will be less likely to challenge your estate planning decisions and will be more inclined to fulfill your final wishes. If you are concerned about heirs contesting your will or trust, you should seek the professional advice now.