The primary goals of estate planning include protecting your family and ensuring that they benefit from your financial legacy. But there is another important purpose behind planning your estate, one that many people do not even consider consciously. Thoughtful and thorough estate planning avoids family conflicts that could ruin relationships irreparably and tear your family apart.
Family disputes over inheritances or matters involving an elder loved one’s welfare are not uncommon. You read about famous family estate fights in the news. Those same types of conflicts can and do occur in many other families.
Inheritance and estate disputes are largely preventable. They also are often even predictable.
Careful estate planning avoids family conflicts by resolving critical issues that your family could face and disagree about if you do not have an estate plan. In this way, your estate plan is one of the most important gifts you can give your family. It safeguards relationships and protects your greatest legacy: your family.
Estate planning addresses a number of situations that give rise to potential family conflicts. In planning your estate, you decide five primary issues for your family:
In your estate plan, you designate the person(s) who will administer your estate. In the absence of valid estate documents, a judge will apply state law and decide who administers your estate. Family members may fight for that privilege.
Court battles are expensive. They reduce the assets in the estate. They also often fracture family relationships permanently. In addition, if you do not have an estate plan, your estate likely will go through the probate process, which means everything about the family conflict and your assets becomes public information.
Some of the most contentious estate disputes revolve around who receives specific property, including money, personal items, and real estate. Sometimes the personal property doesn’t even have great monetary value but does have great sentimental value.
A sound estate plan addresses distribution of your estate in detail, including financial assets and personal property like family heirlooms and other items with sentimental value to specific family members. Your plan also determines disposition of real estate you own, including your family home or vacation property.
In the absence of an estate plan, state law determines distribution of your property. In most cases, the distribution provided for by statute will not be the way you would want your property divided among your family members. It also likely will not be how family members think the property should be divided, which creates conflict among those individuals.
Some of the most important documents in your estate plan protect you during your lifetime. If you suffer debilitating injuries in an accident or become ill or incapacitated, who will take care of you and of your finances? What are your wishes regarding medical care? Who will make your medical decisions?
Family members often disagree about who is responsible in these situations. Those disagreements can escalate into lifelong conflict. They also can affect the quality of your care and management of your finances.
If you don’t have an estate plan, a court will appoint your guardian and a conservator. They could end up being people you would not choose to make your financial decisions and care for you. You avoid that possibility when you have an estate plan. Specific documents in your plan answer all these questions.
Your estate plan also includes your wishes concerning funeral and burial arrangements, which avoids family disagreements over those matters.
If you have minor children, it is very hard to think about someone else raising them. But what if the unexpected happens, and you would not be there to care for them? You should decide who would have the responsibility of caring for your children, both personally and financially. Your estate plan formalizes those designations.
If you don’t designate a guardian and conservator for your children, relatives (and even close friends) may not agree on who takes care of them and their financial needs. A judge ends up making both decisions. The court may not choose the individuals you want to have that responsibility. Your children would be subjected to a disruptive court proceeding. Relationships could be destroyed in the process.
If you own a business, your estate plan includes a business succession plan to provide continuity for the business in the event you are not able to manage it, even for a short period. Succession planning is especially critical if your business is family-owned.
In the absence of a succession plan, family conflicts over control of the business often arise. Those disputes can ruin relationships between family members. They also can destroy the business or result in sale of the business to someone outside the family.
Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney is the only way to plan your estate in a way that avoids family disputes. Your attorney carefully guides you through the process of putting your plan in place. Discussing potential family conflicts and designing your plan to avoid them is part of that process.
Keeping your estate plan current is just as important as creating it. An outdated estate plan can give rise to family disputes just as easily as no estate plan does. If you already have an estate plan, make sure it is up-to-date. Guidance on when to revise your plan is available in our article, 10 Life Events That Tell you When To Update Your Estate Plan.
At Peterson Law Offices, wills and estate planning are a focus of our practice. We provide top-quality services at affordable prices and can assist you in creating a new estate plan or help you revise your outdated plan.
We welcome inquiries from clients throughout the East Valley, including Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Gilbert, Mesa, and Chandler. Schedule your free initial consultation by calling 480-878-5998 or using our online contact form.
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