10 Tips for Dispute-Proofing Your Will
Will disputes can be more than a headache – in addition to the aggravation they cause, they can delay the administration of the estate and deplete valuable estate assets. They can also permanently damage relationships among your heirs and beneficiaries. And while you can never eliminate the risk of disputes over your will, there are steps you can take that will significantly reduce that risk. Your best bet, however, is to work with an experienced probate lawyer.
1. Treat Your Heirs Fairly
One of the most common sources of will disputes is when certain heirs are excluded or treated differently from other similarly situated heirs. For example, children from a previous marriage who receive a greater inheritance than children from your second marriage is likely to result in a dispute. While it may be impossible for everyone to inherit equal shares of your estate, you should make a good faith effort to ensure that each heir is treated fairly.
That said, there are situations where you may be reluctant to have a family member inherit significant assets. For example, maybe you have a child who struggles with substance abuse or other addiction issues and a large inheritance may cause additional problems. Whatever issues you may be facing, an experienced probate attorney will be able to help you allocate your assets in a way that is as fair and equitable as possible.
2. Choose Your Personal Representative Carefully
The personal representative of your estate (also known as the executor) has a big job and heavy responsibilities. They are responsible for getting your will admitted to probate, notifying your heirs and creditors, marshaling estate assets, and, finally, ensuring that the estate is administered according to the terms of your will. Choosing the wrong personal representative can lead to delays, disputes, and ultimately litigation.
You should choose someone who you know will be up to the task. Someone who is detail-oriented, trustworthy, and organized. It is ideal if you can choose someone who has prior experience with estate administration or has a business or financial-oriented background. You do not want to choose someone who is easily overwhelmed, not good with paperwork, has poor management skills, or is easily intimidated by strong personalities.
3. Your Will Should Be Clear, Unambiguous, and Thorough
Ambiguous or unclear language is a common source of will disputes when different interpretations yield very different results. You also want to make sure that your will expressly includes all major assets so that there are no questions concerning whether certain assets should pass according to some other means.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult for non-lawyers to foresee how their wills may be interpreted or other issues that may arise. A skilled probate attorney can help you draft a will that is clear as to your intentions and addresses every aspect of your estate.
4. Avoid Surprises
While you shouldn’t be constantly talking about your will, it is a good idea to communicate your intentions to your family well in advance of your death. That way, any disputes can be handled privately and in advance, rather than in probate court where it will cost your family time and money.
5. Don’t Use Your Will to Settle Old Scores
A common trope in movies and on television is for someone to write one of their heirs out of the will over a perceived wrong or long-simmering grudge. While we understand how tempting this may be, keep in mind that your family will have to deal with the fallout. We recommend that you seek legal counsel before making any drastic decisions about whether or not someone should be left out of your will.
6. Regularly Review and Update Your Estate Plan
Many people have a will prepared, put it in a drawer, and then forget about it. Years or decades later, their will no longer addresses important aspects of their estate. At a minimum, you should review it after major life events such as remarriages and the birth of a child. Ideally, you should review and update your will as you move through life to ensure it meets your family’s needs and your changing circumstances.
7. Be Careful with Changes
One of the biggest mistakes people make is improperly amending their wills or drafting a new will. Impromptu revisions or multiple wills quickly lead to disputes among beneficiaries as they can’t even agree as to which will or which version should determine how your estate will be administered. You should consult with a probate lawyer before making any changes or drafting a new will. They can make sure that your will is properly updated and enforceable.
8. Remember Your Creditors
Will disputes are often brought by heirs or beneficiaries, but your creditors may also raise disputes during probate. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, you should keep a list of all creditors that may have claims against your estate so that they can easily be notified during the probate process. While the best option is to pay off these claims prior to death, you should at least ensure that you are current on all financial obligations and make an effort to pay down any outstanding debts as much as possible.
9. Don’t Wait
The sooner you draft your will the better. Many will disputes claim that the deceased was not of sound mind when the will was drafted or amended. Avoid these claims by having your affairs in order long before your health is in decline.
10. Establish a Long-Term Relationship with a Probate Lawyer
Having a professional that you can call with questions or issues can be incredibly helpful. They can provide you with the answers you need quickly and with minimal expense. Furthermore, they may be able to identify issues that you were unaware of. Perhaps more importantly, they will likely have a relatively easy solution to whatever problem you may be facing. Your lawyer can also inform you of any changes in the law that might affect your estate plan.
Contact Ellis Law Group Today
Whether you have a will or have questions about your estate plan, we can help. Contact us today at 561-91-7500 to discuss your needs and what we can do for you.