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Estate Planning Lawyer

Your family will – literally, this is true in many cases – count your money in the limo, on the way to bury you. They’ll hire advisors, lawyers, and even litigators to battle over it, if necessary.

Many clients underestimate two important things: first, the greed or desire for money, property, and “stuff” exhibited by your family members. The second is the lengths to which your loved ones or beneficiaries will go, to fight over that money, property, and “stuff.”

You know who benefits a lot from family fights and probate litigation? I do. I and other probate litigators and trial lawyers make a very good living from this sort of thing.

This greed, anger, avarice, and desire to control your estate, trust, and property often leads to an un-intended consequence which your estate planning lawyers don’t tell you about: estate litigation lawyers end up being unintended beneficiaries of your estate.

Are there ways to minimize, or to try and control, the estate litigation? Yes. Are there ways to defend an anticipated attack by heirs, in-laws, outlaws, former spouses, and step-children? Certainly. Mistake: letting lawyers inherit your estate.

Pankauski’s Bottom Line: if you want to get serious about trying to minimize possible family litigation after you die, thwarting a possible attack, talk to your probate lawyer now about anticipated probate litigation and what you can do. Don’t think your family is different. It probably isn’t.

You’re leaving it all wrong

Mistake: thinking that your beneficiaries want specific property, or can get along with joint gifts

So, you’ve left that beautiful art collection to daughter Janey. She always expressed an interest in one painting and she took a college course in art history – 25 years ago. Yet, Janey couldn’t give a damn for the artwork. She sells it to a consignment shop within three months of inheriting it, when she should have called Christie’s or Sotheby’s.

You leave the small beach house in Martha’s Vineyard in a family trust, because you want all your adult kids and your grandchildren to share in the residence. It wouldn’t be right to play favorites, you believe, so leaving it to one side of the family is out of the question. Surely, that would hurt – or be seen as a slight to – the other side of your family. You think of the great times you had at the beach house, when the kids were growing up. You envision your kids and their children having similar, wonderful memories as they lovingly share the beach house.

But…

Before you know it, they’re all fighting over who gets to use the beach house on Memorial Day Weekend versus July Fourth – and what color the drapes should be, or who’s going to pay for the new back deck and fixing the swimming pool.

One side of the family wants friends and guests to join them in the beach house. Others want to have rules and restrict the use of the beach house to “family” only. But – why can’t grandchildren bring a boyfriend or girlfriend, others ponder?

The next thing you know, everyone’s reading the trust document, which holds title to the beach house.

Soon, everyone’s hired a trust lawyer.

Not exactly the way you envisioned it, perhaps?

Joint gifts or multi-party inheritances – like this beach house example – are usually tough.

Would it make more sense to have your executor sell the house and divide the proceeds equally? Maybe. At least that way, if your beneficiaries wanted to, they could rent a beach house with their inheritance money.

Would it have made more sense to ask Janey – or others – if they wanted the artwork, or if they preferred cash?

A common, recurring estate planning mistake is when one believes that a beneficiary actually wants what you’re leaving them. The truth is, they may not want it.

Would it make more sense to actually talk to them and ask them?

Another recurring mistake, then, is the misplaced belief that all family members can share an inheritance, whether it’s a trust or a beach house. Or, that they might even have an interest in running a family foundation which you want to set up.

Would it make more sense to talk to them and ask them directly? Indeed.

Much time and careful, deliberate thought often goes into planning your estate the way you want it. But, consider the recipients, the beneficiaries – the other side of this equation. Maybe they don’t have the charitable intent that you have. They might have no interest in spending any time running your family foundation. Perhaps one son hates Martha’s Vineyard and would rather be “bought out” of the beach house trust and receive cash, instead of holding an interest in real property which he’ll never use.

There’s no time when it’s not tough talking about death and inheritances. It causes us to face our own mortality. Let’s face it, talking about money isn’t always pleasant, either – and it can be even more uncomfortable when family is involved. Talking about death and money with family can often be extremely difficult. If you do it right, however, the discomfort can be minimal – and you only have to do it once.

Pankauski’s Bottom Line: Don’t engage in ostrich estate planning: don’t bury your head in the sand and hope that your kids and spouse don’t fight about joint gifts or that they want what you are leaving them. Maybe they just want cash. Consider talking to them as much as you talk to your estate planning lawyer. It will cost you less and you’ll probably learn a lot more!

Florida Will Contests:Do Prior Beneficiaries Have the Right to Sue to Revoke Probate? >

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