As estate planning lawyers, the irony isn’t lost on us that the very thing we encourage our clients to do in order to prevent family battles after their death is the same thing that can lead to epic battles. If human nature is at play, there’s going to passion, fear and even anger. Here are three of the biggest landmines that historically have led to major meltdowns in family dynamics.
She Left me WHAT?!
The element of surprise is often a good thing. When it comes to unveiling the contents of a will, that element of surprise can be anything but. You have two choices: you can let your family members know ahead of time what they will or won’t receive or you can do nothing and let the cards fall where they may. Frankly, this is one of those questions your estate planning lawyer might not be able to help you overcome. Only you know your family dynamics.
If you gave one of your adult children a bit of an advance on what they will inherit, it will feel unbalanced when the will is read, but you may want to include an addendum to remind your family that you’d helped with the down payment on your daughter’s home. You’d be surprised at the comments of “Oh, yeah. I totally forget about that” when a loved one is reminded of their early inheritance.
Contest It – I Dare You
Oh, those touchy no-contest clauses. These have the potential of being quite explosive. A no-contest clause is used to discourage your heirs from challenging your will or any trusts you’ve put into place. If they do push the matter and if they lose (which, if you have an experienced estate planning lawyer, you won’t have to worry about it), they lose everything. This is one of those legal double-edged swords, though. If you have two daughters and $20,000 in cash, and let’s say you leave one daughter $19,000 and your other daughter, who may have substance abuse problems, you leave just $1,000. Your daughter who ended up with $1,000 may feel it’s worth the risk to challenge your will. There’s not much at stake if she loses. Again, your best ally in these situations will always be your estate planning legal team.
A Sentimental Fool
They say those in love with the sentimental side of life are foolish. We disagree, and we’ve seen enough families disintegrate over sentimentality. While many are concerned about problems over property, cash and cars, there’s another possibility that’s just as apt to become heated. The brooch that your great grandmother wore or maybe priceless painting that’s hanging above your fireplace or it could be a few small boxes that hold all of the family recipes dating back to the 1930s – these are all fair game and make no mistake, for the sentimental members in your family, it can be excruciating to know it won’t fall to them.
Interestingly enough, every case is different. While it might be best to warn families of what the will contains, there are just as many who say, “Eh. They’ll find out soon enough.” Only you can make that decision for yourself. In order for your will to be honored and to lessen the possibility of it being contested, it’s very important to bring in your Essex Junction estate planning lawyer who can work with you to ensure there are no loose ends.