Most people create a will with the idea that once they pass away, decisions regarding the distribution of their estate will have already been made, therefore, their wishes will be followed and they can have peace of mind.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Unless your estate planning documents: wills, trusts, etc…are drawn up properly (aka: NOT PRINTED OFF THE INTERNET) you may run into family battles and court litigation over who gets what. A carefully prepared and executed will is the ultimate shield to a disgruntled heir.
Tips to Prevent Post-Death Litigation & Create a Rock-Solid Will:
- All conversations between the will maker and the attorney should be recorded (notes of conversations, cover letters, drafts, emails, phone conversations, etc.);
- Clearly recognize special relationships in documents naming beneficiaries: step children, domestic partners, long time friends, and other non-heirs with close relationships;
- If a legal heir is "disinherited" the will should state the name and relationship of each disinherited heir and the intent of the will-maker to "disinherit" each;
- Keep a copy of the physician’s report of the will maker’s physical and mental condition on the day the will was signed;
- Keep a list of everyone attending the signing ceremony and everyone who saw the will maker that day;
- Life-long friends, not strangers, should witness the signing of all estate planning documents;
- Execution of wills and trusts should be witnessed by more than the number of witnesses required by law (2);
- Keep copies of all prior wills created.
The best advice is to be completely candid in your estate planning documents. Secrets are never a good thing within a family. If you expect family members to be disappointed, inform everyone of the changes in your estate planning documents in writing. Not every estate can be administered seamlessly, a good elder law attorney will make sure that all the tips I listed above are followed. So call an experienced estate planning attorney to help you navigate through the legal jargon and avoid disputes.