After a loved one passes away the very last thing anyone wants is a dispute over the assets left behind. Everyone involved, including the lawyers and the entire court system, want the process to run smoothly for the sake of all involved. Yet even when everyone involved has the best of intentions, bitter disputes can arise over the estate of the deceased. If you fear estate disputes and you’re wondering what the best plan of action is, the answer is simple. The best plan of action is to avoid estate disputes entirely.
How Can Estate Disputes Be Avoided?
- Have a Trust or a Will: A well drafted Trust or Will goes a long way. The quickest way to ensure an estate dispute will occur is to die without a properly funded Trust or executed Will. Sometimes this occurs because the deceased simply trusted his heirs and assumed they would figure it out. Some feel a family discussion mid-life is enough to handle any questions about the estate. But the truth is that not having a Trust or Will in place ensures that your survivors will have to put the pieces together, and not necessarily the way you would have liked.
- Understand the probate process: Probate is the legal process used to transfer a person’s property after death. A well-drafted will helps the probate process run smoothly. Unfortunately, it can become a lengthy and expensive process. It can take anywhere from six months to a year to complete the process and may require court and/or attorney fees. The lengthy nature of the process not only means more time and more money, but it also means more opportunities for disputes to arise regarding the distribution of the inheritance as this is the last step in the process. Some choose to avoid the probate process entirely through: Joint Property Ownership, Death Beneficiaries, Revocable Living Trusts, Gifts, etc.
- Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive: Create a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances to manage your money while you are healthy. An Advance Health Care Directive allows you to select an Agent to make medical decisions for you while you can still make decisions. Many inheritance disputes arise from decisions an individual made late in life or during an illness. When an elderly or infirm person changes his or her will or replaces it entirely, heirs may suspect manipulation or, in some cases, question soundness of mind at the time of the change. This is particularly relevant when dealing with healthcare issues and decisions. An Advance Health Care Directive can help avoid disputes regarding how you want to be cared for in an emergency, medical treatment in response to incapacitation, desired quality of life, end of life treatments, and can even specifically note any treatments you do not wish to be used. The Durable Power of Attorney for Finances designates an individual to make financial decisions on your behalf in the event you are incapacitated. This can cover healthcare payments, but also covers other financial decisions (i.e. paying bills, taxes, medical costs, real estate and investment management, hiring a lawyer, etc.)
Planning for death is never considered fun. But having all the right pieces of an estate plan in place is the best way to ensure that your family will avoid the stress and emotional trauma that can be associated with many inheritance disputes. If you need help creating a Trust, Will, avoiding probate or putting a durable Power of Attorney in place, please get in touch with Dolen, Tucker, Tierney & Abraham.