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The Harmonious Family that Won’t Fight? The Outcome May Surprise You

By Melissa A. Register May 15, 2019 Posted in Family Dynamics

Most families are happy families. They get together for the holidays, share laughs, and tell stories. Everyone gets along and enjoys each other’s company. Then, the matriarch or patriarch dies. Suddenly, years of pent-up resentment and hurt feelings bubble to the surface, and the once-happy family is now embroiled in litigation over the decedent’s estate.

When everyone is alive and happy, it is easy to think that nothing will break a family apart. Many people think that since everyone is getting along, estate planning is not needed because everyone will look out for one another and do what is fair. However, it is crucial that you have a properly prepared estate plan. Failing to plan not only takes control out of your hands, it can also leave hurt feelings and possible confusion over your true wishes. This confusion will force family members to the only place able to remedy the misunderstanding: a courtroom.

While a lack of planning can lead to disastrous consequences, poor planning can be just as harmful. Documents that are not up to date, vague, or improperly prepared can lead family members to challenge them. If the documents are not clear, family members may have differing opinions as to the true intention of the decedent. This is especially unfortunate for those with a revocable living trust since one of the primary reasons to have such a trust prepared is to avoid court involvement.

If your documents are up to date and clearly state your intentions, but you worry that your decisions may displease your family, you may have the ability to include a no-contest clause that may prevent or limit challenges to your will or trust. A no-contest clause is a provision that states that if a person contests your will or trust—whichever document contains the clause—and is unsuccessful, they will receive nothing. However, their effectiveness can vary from state to state. Ohio recognizes no-contest clauses, but Florida does not. For snowbirds with homes in both of these states, if there are serious concerns about future will or trust contests, the option of no-contest clauses can be a factor when choosing a domicile.

As an alternative, if you are concerned about a beneficiary receiving a sum of money outright because of creditor issues, spending habits, etc., you do not need to disinherit them. By utilizing a discretionary trust, you can set aside money for the individual that is distributed to them when and how you determine. Leaving money to a family member does not have to be an all-or-nothing decision.

Regardless of your family situation, it is incredibly important that you have a well-drafted, up-to-date estate plan in place. Will or trust contests can be very costly and can quickly drain the estate or trust, which means your loved ones will end up with less than you intended. We can assist you in creating an estate plan that will ensure that your wishes are carried out and that harmony can be maintained within your family after you are gone.

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