Estate litigation often arises because people create estate plans that ignore some important issues. A good estate plan looks ahead to what might, and will, happen to you and your family in the future. Making inheritance choices that avoid the potential for family conflict is a key step in preparing a good plan, and one that will also help your loved ones to avoid needless litigation. While it is impossible to craft a plan that will guarantee that no estate litigation arises, there are some steps you can take to minimize the potential risk. Here are three tips you should consider.
Tip 1. Always be clear about probate and non-probate transfers.
Inheritances will transfer either through the probate process or through channels that allow property to pass outside of probate. Probate property will be subject to the terms of your last will and testament, while non-probate property will transfer in a number of ways. This means that if you make inheritance decisions based only on the terms you include in your last will and testament, you could be forgetting about some significant assets. When non-probate assets transferred others, this can inadvertently leave significantly unbalanced inheritances if you rely on your will alone.
Tip 2. Discuss unequal inheritances given to children, grandchildren, siblings, or other relatives of equal relation.
The idea that someone has been left an unfair inheritance is one of the primary causes that leads to estate litigation. People don’t like feeling as if they’ve been treated unfairly, and will go to great lengths to try to correct that perceived imbalance.
While there is no law that requires you to give equal inheritances to relatives of the same degree of relationship, you might want to use equal inheritances as the starting point. If you choose to give unequal inheritances, you should have a good reason for doing so. You might also want to discuss your reasoning with those relatives and family members so they will not be caught off guard when you choose to leave an unequal inheritance.
Tip 3. Be clear about personal property and family heirlooms.
Significant estate litigation conflicts can arise from transfers of personal property or family heirlooms that have significant sentimental value but little monetary value. Before you finish your inheritance plan you will want to develop a strategy for dividing such property between your family members. Don’t simply leave it up for them to decide on their own, as this delegation of decision-making can easily lead to conflict. There are several different ways to distribute property of sentimental value, regardless of the strategy you use, you want to be clear about it when you make your plan.