Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
The end of the holiday season can sometimes bring families both sadness and relief. While the holidays are a time when loved ones get together to enjoy each other’s company, holiday stress can certainly lead to trivial arguments and miscommunications. Imagine the disagreements that can arise if something more serious were to happen like leaving your loved ones behind to divide up property if you didn’t plan properly.
A dispute over how your estate is divided can break bonds in even the most harmonious family. This year, as you look back on your holiday celebrations, resolve that 2019 is the year that you will put a plan in place so you can prevent family feuding after you are gone.
Dividing Up Estates is a Top Cause of Family Feuds
Family disputes make the papers all the time, and sometimes the participants in the fight aren’t exactly who you’d expect. In 2007, famous real estate developer and hotelier Leona Helmsley died and left behind a $4 billion estate. Her estate led to lots of trouble when she left $12 million to her dog, aptly and ironically named, Trouble.
While Trouble got a very generous gift, Helmsley left nothing to her two grandchildren. The fight turned bitter as the grandchildren resented not even being thrown a bone… and the poor dog ended up getting so many death threats that he needed $100,000 worth of security a year.
After much litigation, the grandchildren walked away with $6 million (despite Helmsley’s clear intention to leave them nothing) and the dog’s inheritance was reduced to $2 million by a Manhattan judge, with the rest of the money going to charity.
If even man’s best friend can become embroiled in an estate dispute, imagine the problems people can leave behind if there is no plan in place. This is especially true at a time when USA Today reports that more than 40% of adults in America today have at least one step-relative. Blended families mean more people trying to claim a piece of the pie, which can exacerbate an already tense situation.
Protect your family by planning ahead – make it your New Year’s resolution to get your estate plan firmly in place in 2019. Here’s what you can do to keep family fights a bay after you are gone:
- Getting professional help. You should talk to an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you make sure your wishes are respected, whatever those wishes may be.
- Communicating with your family. A writer for the Daily Mail recounted arriving at her in-laws where kids were asked by their still-living parents to place stickers on the property they wanted. This didn’t turn out very well as the kids began to bicker, but at least it was a good effort. While it can be uncomfortable, you need to find some way to talk to your loved ones because open communication while you are alive makes it more likely your wishes will be respected when you are gone.
- Considering a “No Contest” clause. A “No Contest” clause, also known as an In Terrorem clause can be a silver bullet against family fights after your death due to the fact that anyone who starts a fight can be disinherited. When a “no contest” clause is included in your Will, anyone who challenges your wishes will be left out.
- Updating your estate plan regularly. As your life changes, you need to alter your estate plan to reflect your new circumstances. Unintentionally leaving out some family members could lead to a fight after you are no longer around to correct the oversight.
You don’t want your family to become a cautionary tale after your death, so don’t put your loved ones in a situation where your case could end up in court. Make and keep a resolution to talk to an estate planning attorney this year to discuss ways to protect your legacy and future family harmony. Your loved ones are depending on you.