Estate litigation has somehow found its way front and center in this particular law sector. The reason is simple: poor estate planning. When your estate plan is vague or open to interpretation, you can be sure that’s exactly what will happen: people will try to interpret your decisions. It’s unfortunate, but it can also be avoided. Selecting an estate planning lawyer with experience and a commitment to each of his clients’ needs should be top priority. The more he knows about your needs, you wishes and the intricacies of your family, the better he can deliver exactly what you need most: a solid estate plan that will stand up to the scrutiny of someone else trying to make it into what they want it to be.
Understanding Estate Planning
Simply stated, estate planning is the process of providing direction for your assets after you die and to allow others to handle your affairs should you become incapacitated. In those instances, most people put two powers of attorney into effect: a medical power of attorney, which allows someone to make medical decisions for you and a financial power of attorney, which allows someone to handle your financial affairs in the event of an accident or illness.
Estate planning has a reputation for being long and drawn out. It’s not a fair assessment, though, because often, the complications come in for those who are prepared. Estate planning itself is quite straightforward and affordable, too. The trick is ensuring you’ve covered all of the bases so that the courts aren’t required to bet involved (things really do become complicated if that happens).
Another misconception is that many believe estate plans are “one size fits all”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some clients will need only a will, perhaps a living will too, and the two powers of attorney mentioned above. Others have more intricate needs and require various trusts and a number of powers of attorney and other legal documents. Regardless of your needs, the goal is to always avoid costly and time consuming estate litigation.
Estate Litigation in the News
There have been quite a few doosies in recent years when it comes to legal cases that made the headlines. Who can forget the infamous Leona Helmsley and her massive shoe empire and the fact she left her entire estate to her Maltese, Trouble? Let’s not forget Michael Jackson (whose estate continues to be contested several years after his death), Ted Kennedy, who named a family friend instead of his wife or other family member as executor of his estate and Princess Diana, whose kind spirit mistakenly believed the people always did the right thing. Their very public battles dominated the news at various times. Each made mistakes that could have avoided the brouhahas in their entireties.
Senator Kennedy named Paul G. Kird, Jr. to administer his estate. It’s likely he chose a family friend instead of a family member in order to keep peace within the family. It was likely one of the best decisions he ever made. He also ensured the proverbial I’s were dotted and Ts were crossed. As a result, we never heard much about his estate following his death – and that’s for one reason only: he put into place a solid estate plan.
On the other hand, Princess Diana opted for “letters of wishes”. These letters politely requested her executors to divide her personal property and then distribute it to her many godchildren. Each would have ended up with close to $163,000 each. Because her letters of wishes weren’t legally recognized, those godchildren received “small remembrances” such as a tea set that wasn’t even complete and other trinkets. Her case served as a reminder of how important a complete estate plan truly is.
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