Although families often handle distribution of inherited property without conflict, there are many cases where disposition of the assets that comprise an estate through will or trust can cause deep family rifts and reignite long dormant family issues. Most people engaged in estate planning have particular justifications for their decisions to leave their property to a charity rather than family or to divide their estate unequally among children. However, effective estate planning can head off such issues by careful planning, drafting and discussion with loved ones. Our Bernalillo County Estate Planning Lawyers understand the potential for such conflicts and often craft solutions designed to eliminate confusion and conflict later.
One common factor that promotes conflict and challenges to estate planning documents involves surprise by family members. While people may be hesitant to completely articulate their plans for disposition of their assets, business and property, the step of providing a broad outline or overview to family members can reduce the likelihood of disputes. When intentions are shared with family, this provides family members time to come to terms with a loved one’s decisions and to ask questions or express concerns. Although this may not completely satisfy family members who disagree with an individual’s intentions, it may be sufficient to discourage lawsuits that needlessly eat away at the net worth of an estate.
When the bulk of an individual’s assets or assets of substantial value are left to charities or non-family members like a caregiver, these situations can be especially likely to lead to potential problems including disillusioned family members and litigation. These conflicts might be preempted by sharing with family members the extraordinary efforts provided by a caregiver or the close connection of a museum to preserving a cherished piece of artwork. Admittedly, communication of one’s motives may not eliminate all negative feelings, but it can at least make clear that the decision was based on legitimate reasons.
Another scenario that often results in conflict is when an estate plan leaves an unequal division between children. Many times there are sound reasons for such an uneven division of an individual’s estate. For example, one child may have special physical or intellectual needs whereas another child may be financially successful. This situation may make the inheritance more valuable to the special needs child. While simply dividing property this way without explaining the decision to do so might cause hurt feelings and resentment, the financially secure child might completely understand and embrace the decision when the reasons are made clear. Sometimes a child receives help from a parent during the parent’s lifetime, such as a down payment to purchase a home. This may be viewed as “advance inheritance” and provide another explanation for an uneven distribution of property to an individual’s kids.
The above information is designed solely to illustrate general principles of law, and does not constitute a specific legal opinion on individual cases. We suggest that you contact experienced legal counsel for a specific opinion tailored to your individual circumstances.
The key is that communication to family members regarding your estate planning strategies and intentions along with artful drafting of a living trust and/or will can prevent family disputes over inheritance issues. If you have questions about estate planning in Bernalillo County, our Probate Attorneys at Life Leaf Legal Group, PC offer a free consultation in our centrally located offices in Santa Fe and Albuquerque so that we can discuss your specific situation. Call us today to schedule your free consultation at (505) 856-3591 to learn about your rights and options.