Last Will and Testament Gone Wrong Comedy

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Last Will and Testament Gone Wrong Comedy

the last will and testament

Will Your Last Will and Testament be a Blessing or a Curse?

This Last Will and Testament may be a joke, but it is no joking matter when poorly thought out estate planning results in family conflict.  The ugliest and most expensive litigation is between family members over the division of inherited property.  There is a better way.  What should a person do to prevent conflict in their family over dividing up an estate?

There is an old joke that helps illustrate what to consider in planning to avoid family conflict.  An ambitious young person sought out the most prosperous business owner in the community to ask for advice on how to succeed.

The young person asked the business owner, “what is the secret to your success?”  The business owner answered quickly, “good decisions.”

The young person responded, “how do you make good decisions?”  The business owner again responded without hesitation, “experience.”

The young finally asked, “well, how do you get experience?”  The business owner said simply, “bad decisions.”

One of the reasons a seasoned attorney is worth consulting is that they have practiced long enough to see things go badly in families, and have developed methods for preventing or minimizing such conflict.  It is important to note, that attorneys who profit from conflict (i.e., litigation attorneys) are not always the best source to consult on how to avoid conflict.  I have seen the best of estate planning intentions turned upside down by disruptive children and their litigation lawyers who are more concerned about how much they can take than about their parent’s intent or wishes.

It is astonishing and sad how often children will tell their parent’s while they are alive “it’s your money.  Do whatever you want with it.”  But then when their parents are dead and the children discover they didn’t get as much as they feel entitled to, they hire lawyers and attack everything they can in an attempt to get their own way.

Experience has taught me that the following short list of solutions is highly effective at preventing or minimizing the impact of family conflict in an estate:

  1. Have a plan (no plan practically guarantees conflict)
  2. Use a Trust (without a funded trust probate becomes mandatory)
  3. Select Trustees carefully (naming family members as Successor Trustee will either be the best option or the worst option – choose wisely)
  4. Make distributions discretionary, not mandatory, and set the scope of discretion based on the family and financial facts (there is no one size fits all solution to when and in what amounts distributions ought to be made)
  5. Require alternative dispute resolution (lawyering up and battling out disputes in court never benefits the family in the long run)
  6. Use a Trust Protector (a neutral third party who can enforce your intent)
  7. Don’t be cheap.  Many very expensive problems are caused as a result of an unwillingness to pay for the solution.  People spend more on their vacation than they do protecting their families and their wealth from destructive consequences.

 

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