Some people think that estate issues after you die are unavoidable.
Still others think that they’ll be long gone, so what does it matter if there’s a plan in place? The truth is, there are ways to plan ahead and create an estate plan that is easy and stress-free for your family. Whether you’re here or not, someone will have to deal with your assets and possessions when you die. For the sake of your family and friends, follow these rules to avoid problems with your estate and to ensure your wishes are truly carried out.
- Always have a Will and estate plan established which deal with both incapacity issues and after death issues – no matter what your age.
Florida pitching ace Jose Fernandez died at the age of 24 in a boating accident, leaving a girlfriend who was pregnant. Whether he wanted his child and girlfriend to be provided for is uncertain but in order for that to occur, the couple would have to be married or Fernandez would have had to put his desires into writing. Having a verbal agreement that a person is to receive a certain amount or a particular keepsake is not good enough and courts will not honor promises that are not in writing.
- Hire attorneys who specialize in estate planning — and listen to them!
We live in a do-it-yourself world supported by google and all that “free advice” on the internet. Many famous and not so famous people have tried to do it their way, only to leave a mess for their spouse and children. Frank Sinatra, Jr. did it his way instead of looking to experts for advice. As a result, his ex-wife Cynthia believed that she was entitled to his estate because they had continued to live together after their divorce. Only a few states recognize common law marriage and relying upon the laws of your state often results in disaster. Frank Sinatra failed to listen to the experts and his estate continues to be in litigation.
- Any change in an estate plan should be made by an attorney with extensive experience in estate planning so no ambiguities are written into the plan design.
Tom Clancy died in 2013 and his estate is still being litigated in court. He had originally prepared a plan to have his estate divided between his second wife and children from both his first and second marriage. Shortly before his death he signed an ambiguous codicil to the will which resulted in the allocation of a multi-million-dollar tax bill to some of the children. Needless to say, the children have challenged the ambiguous codicil and this estate will be locked up in court until the ambiguities in the plan are resolved in court.
- Choose your fiduciary carefully.
Failing to choose a qualified executor, trustee or agent under a financial or medical power of attorney can have damaging consequences. Care should be taken to choose someone who is familiar with your goals and will follow your directions. Careful thought about whether your choice may cause relational difficulties with children or other beneficiaries is something many fail to consider. Does the person you choose handle his own finances well, is he a do-it-yourself kind of person or a team player, how does he relate to others, does he have the expertise necessary to act on your behalf as a fiduciary?
- Don’t wait until it is too late!
A few years ago, a wealthy widower in Virginia disinherited his children and left his estate to a close friend. Unfortunately, he waited until shortly before his death to make the changes to his estate plan and the children are challenging the plan by saying that he no longer had the required mental capacity to make those decisions. This is also a problem with the wealthy, Prince died last year at the relatively young age of 57. Although he took great care to protect property rights in his music, he died without an estate plan. Now hundreds of millions are being contested by over 30 people claiming to be his “love children.” At this point the belief is that his younger sister and half-siblings will inherit the estate but Prince, perhaps naively thinking he was too young to die, waited too late to make a plan and left a mess for his family.
In order to avoid these and other problems, engage an attorney who specializes in comprehensive estate planning, listen to them and make sure everything is put into writing.