Probate litigation is normally the culmination of things that have gone wrong with estate planning. No matter how costly an estate plan is, probate litigation makes estate planning look inexpensive. The truth is, when compared with the unpleasantries of probate litigation, estate planning feels like a walk in the park.
Probate litigation is most often the result of a family dispute over the right to inherit from a loved one’s estate. In fact, all sorts of problems can surface in families when a loved one dies and it is unclear who is supposed to get what from the decedent’s estate, for example:
- Brothers and sisters can start to point fingers at one another
- Pre-existing sibling rivalries can flare up again
- The economic disparities between all of the siblings may boil up to the surface
- The less successful siblings may begin to resent the more financially successful siblings and look for reasons to curse their good fortune or want them disinherited
In larger families, when an inheritance dispute flares up, everyone tends to take a side. Deep divisions form and everyone gets prepared to do battle, even those who are not directly financially interested in the outcome. In the worst cases, these disputes can give rise litigation above and beyond probate, such as allegations of domestic violence and other criminal complaints.
It’s Easy To Do Estate Planning Wrong
There are many ways non-professionals do estate planning wrong that can give rise to family disputes and probate litigation. Here are a couple of the most common ways it can go wrong:
- Beneficiary Designation Forms
The most common way that non-professionals do estate planning wrong is by failing to properly fill out a beneficiary designation form. You’d be amazed how many family disputes arise because someone failed to properly designate the beneficiary of a retirement account, bank account, investment account, etc.
For instance, if you simply state in your Will that you want the funds from your retirement account to go to your children after you die, but forget to designate them as the beneficiaries on your retirement forms, you will most likely cause unintended consequences and a lot of confusion. This is because, your Will doesn’t control what happens to your retirement account, only the beneficiary designation on your retirement forms will dictate that.
If you still have your ex-wife (your children’s mother) listed as the beneficiary on your retirement forms, it won’t matter that you stated in your Will that your retirement funds should go to your children. Your ex-wife will be the legal beneficiary of your retirement funds and whether she shares this inheritance with your children (or not) will be completely up to her.
- Joint Ownership of Assets
Joint ownership is a great estate planning tool, but it can also go wrong. For example, parents may put their oldest and most responsible child on the title to their house and then the whole family verbally agrees that when the parents pass away, the house will be sold, and all of the siblings will get an equal share of the proceeds.
However, after the parents die, the house goes to the oldest child automatically by operation of the joint ownership. But suddenly, perhaps because he and his new wife are going through some financial hardships, he doesn’t remember anything about any verbal agreement and keeps the house or all of it proceed for himself. This can easily, and frequently does, lead to family infighting and probate litigation.
How Good Estate Planning Can Help
Probate litigation can be an extremely emotional process for everyone involved and often leads to the destruction of family relationships. Fortunately, while not all estate-related family disputes can be avoided, many are preventable.
The old saying goes––an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure––this applies perfectly to probate litigation. Good estate planning with the help of a skilled and knowledgeable estate planning attorney is an extremely effective way to avoid family infighting and reduce the likelihood of probate litigation.
No one wants their loved ones fighting over their estate after they are gone. To discuss ways you can prevent this from happening in your family when you pass away, contact The Law Offices Of Bridget Mackay by visiting our contact page to schedule a free consultation.