As 2020 comes to a close, we suggest a New Year’s resolution that will benefit you, your family, and your hard-earned assets: try to avoid probate litigation. Taking a few steps now will save your loved ones stress and agony years from now. Below are a few steps you can take now to avoid probate litigation:
- Consult a skilled estate planning attorney: While there are plenty of do-it-yourself options available online, a small upfront investment to hire a skilled estate planning attorney will save you and your loved ones significant time and money down the road. If you have procrastinated about setting up your estate plan, take some time now to pick the right estate planner for you – call your local bar association for recommendations, read biographies and reviews online, and ask for a complimentary consultation with potential estate planners. It is important to pick an estate planner who listens to you, understands your unique family and financial circumstances, specializes in this practice area, and provides you independent advice. The best fit is someone who will be your trusted advisor for many years down the road.
- Update your estate plan regularly: Having a current estate plan updated regularly to reflect changes in life and the law is the best measure to express your intentions and avoid litigation. If possible, continue to use the same skilled estate planning attorney (or successor at the same firm) to perform the updates to your estate plan.
- Try to create a happy family: All families have difficulties, but to the extent that you can try to minimize or resolve conflicts now, it could help avoid litigation years from now after you or a loved one has died. Plus, wouldn’t it be better to have a sympathetic shoulder to cry on rather than fight about a fair distribution of assets?
- Have candid conversations with family: Whether you start to see early signs of dementia in a loved one or have explicitly excluded a child from your Will or Trust, it is important to have open and candid conversations with loved ones. This should include being transparent about estate plans (including a health care proxy and durable power of attorney), so there is no confusion or resentment years from now. As a probate and trust litigator, I handle many cases involving a decedent who told one thing to one child and another thing to another child. Had the decedent had candid conversations with both children, a lot of time, assets, and tears could have been saved.
We hope these steps help you avoid probate litigation in the future. Wishing you and your families a happy and healthy new year!