The purpose of a will or estate plan is to avoid any confusion or disagreement about how to execute your wishes. Unfortunately, too often the estate planning process itself, as well as the administration of an estate, can lead to bitter, long-lasting family feuds.
Sometimes, this is the result of a lack of comprehensive estate planning. And usually, the decedent thought they had an adequate plan in place. For example, a woman leaves her estate, estimated to include assets worth $1,000,000, to her three children. She has a will, in which she specifies that each child is to receive one-third of her assets. It seems simple enough. But this is a type of scenario that could lead to an expensive, emotionally-charged legal proceeding. Usually, a person’s assets are a complex mix of cash, stock, real estate property, and other items. How do you value the assets in the estate? Is there a family business involved? If so, will it be sold or continued to be managed by one of the children? Who gets which priceless family heirlooms?
A simple will may not offer enough guidance to ensure a peaceful distribution of your estate. A more comprehensive estate plan may be your best defense again family discord over inheritance. It is essential to have your intent and instructions made as clearly as possible in writing. Of course, verbal communication is important as well. You should speak frankly with your heirs, and make them aware of your wishes. It is usually helpful for family and loved ones to understand how you made your estate planning decisions. If your family is surprised by your decisions, they may be more likely to take the issue to court.
A well-designed estate plan will foresee and head off potential areas of conflict. For example, you should carefully consider the choice of executor for your estate. If your children have very different personalities or struggle to get along, a trusted third-party executor might be a wise choice. Additionally, you should provide instructions for how family heirlooms will be distributed. Often, it’s these items that find their value not in monetary worth, but your family’s attachment to them that can cause the most strife.
If you have many heirs at various ages and levels of financial sophistication, a trust can be a helpful tool. With a trust, you can specify when and for what purpose your heirs receive distributions. If you’re worried about an heir spending through the money, you could require that distributions be made over time, rather than all at once. If young grandchildren are involved, you could restrict their trust distributions to be used only for educational purposes. As with the estate executor, choosing the right trustee is important. This person will be responsible for the ongoing management of your assets.
You’ve worked hard to accumulate wealth during your life and leave something behind for your family. The last thing you want is for your gift to lead to divisions within your family. Together with an experienced, local estate planning attorney, you can reduce the likelihood of a family dispute when it comes to inheritance.
The award-winning Maryland estate planning attorneys at Altman and Associates have more than 20 years of experience working with families to structure estate plans that are clear, comprehensive, and personalized to your needs. Learn more about your options by scheduling an appointment with us today. Our offices are conveniently located in the Rockville, Bethesda area and in Columbia, Maryland. Call us toll-free at 301-468-3220 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. We will be happy to provide you with legal advice conveyed with Integrity, Honesty, Experience, and Professionalism.