Challenges to wills and trusts are more common than you might think. These disputes can turn very ugly, very quickly. Resentment between family members can last a lifetime, and the financial consequences can be devastating for all parties involved. Here are several ways to prevent potential disputes from arising in the first place, avoid estate litigation, and help ensure your wishes are carried out.
Three Ways to Avoid Challenges to Wills & Trusts
1. Try to treat siblings as equally as possible.
In some family situations, this may seem easier said than done. However, the principle is sound and can help avoid a number of potential problems. If you have two children, leave each of them the same amount. This “equality principle” doesn’t just apply to money. There is also the issue of control. If one of your children seems better able to manage money and you name him or her as executor of the estate (or trustee of the trust), the other child will likely feel slighted. Naming a corporate executor or trustee can nip this thorny issue in the bud. Another potential problem is when inheritances are left to grandchildren, and one sibling has more grandchildren than the other. Even then, if you follow the equality principle, many conflicts can be avoided.
2. Never underestimate the emotional value of certain family heirlooms and other tangible property.
That vase in the foyer or the old sofa in the living room might not seem valuable to you, but to certain members of your family, it could hold special meaning – and value. A statement in a will or trust that essentially says, ‘tangible personal property should be divided as my heirs see fit,’ can lead to a host of conflicts. By putting specific items that you believe are of interest to certain family members in writing, and discussing these decisions in advance, many emotionally charged disputes can be prevented.
3. If you gave money to one heir in the past, don’t forget about it in your estate plan.
Let’s say that several years ago you gave one of your sons $20,000 to help with the down payment on a home. Since your goal is to treat all of your children equally, you might want to address this gift in your will or trust. For example, it can be classified as an advancement, with the $20,000 counting as part of the money you ultimately leave to that particular son.