Family and estate lawyers see a lot—and it is not always pretty. Accordingly, attorneys advice that it’s best to button up estate plans carefully, so that conflicts cannot spring up through the cracks. Here, for example is a case in which just beneath the surface, a “happy family,” turned out to be very unhappy.
Everyone get’s an equal slice. No one will mess with that. The kids can figure out what’s fair. Why not give all the kids power of attorney? These are examples of how believing everyone will automatically “do the right thing” can backfire dramatically in families. Attorney Mark Ashton of Fox Rothschild shares this painful example of what can actually happen absent a carefully made and clearly communicated estate plan:
The seemingly happy couple were about to celebrate 50 years of marriage. It was a second marriage and there were kids around from the first. Wife #2 was nervous….There really didn’t seem to be an estate plan and her husband was starting to lose his mental capacity…. Along the way, the husband decided rather than “choose” among his children, he would give all four of them a power of attorney. They would be fair with each other and with their stepmother right? …“Behold” some of the kids started to move the money that they now regarded as theirs. Those kids didn’t really have much regard for their stepmother….Dad never got his last supper because the food fight over the family wealth broke out soon after the children began to move his money. Sadly, he didn’t really understand what was going on.
No one really sets out to have their family end up in tangles—or their spouse unprovided for, but life throws curve balls and money and grief are an especially bad combination. Estate law experts point out that a big mistake in families is failure to get into “the nitty gritty” such as: “How will your surviving spouse pay the bills…? Are there obligations to a former spouse? Who gets your non probate assets like your qualified pension plan or the house in Avalon?” It may feel difficult, to set out the details for everyone to understand but, as the above case illustrates, failure to do so is really “a huge disservice” in families.Toward leaving your family in good shape—financially and emotionally—make sure you understand the basics of wills and trusts and follow these estate planning basics. Estate lawyers remind us that careful planning also requires assembling all the account information and other details your family will need to settle your affairs. Creating a “letter of instruction,” can also be helpful.
Importantly, when you make an estate plan, you will designate a loved one, friend or professional to serve as your fiduciary. This person is generally referred to as an executor, trustee, or personal representative, depending on your circumstances and region. Regardless of the specifics of your estate plan, the fiduciaries you appoint have a legal responsibility to carry out your affairs, in accordance with the intentions set forth in your estate planning documents and the law. When representatives are designated, fiduciary bonds, alternatively referred to as estate bonds, can be required as a safeguard for the interests of the estate and beneficiaries. Learn more about estate bonds right here. At Colonial, a leading national provider of all types of fiduciary bonds, the steps to obtaining estate bonds and all other types of fiduciary bonds are easy: get a quote online, fill out the information, and enter a payment method. Print or e-file the bond from anywhere—even the law office.
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Good To Remember
When life circumstances lead to an estate plan that could be surprising to some of the beneficiaries, it is extra important to make the intentions clear—ensuring that money is not equated with love: “As Aristotle points out…when people who are equal are granted unequal shares — or people who aren’t equal are granted equal shares — ‘quarrels and complaints arise.’” Legal experts remind us that lingering, unresolved family conflicts are frequently at the roots of messy and painful probate litigation. As Justia notes: “High-risk factors for probate litigation include sibling rivalry, second marriages, and dysfunctional families.” Even when done with the best of intentions and reasons, unexpected decisions can trigger contests to the estate plan. Challenges to validity of legal documents involved with wills and trusts, and lack of faith in the appointed fiduciary, such as the executor or trustee, can also pave the path to litigation.
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