One of the many goals of proper estate planning is to prevent family feuding. This is obviously to ensure that the worry, stress, and cost of these legal battles is avoided. But on top of that, done right, avoiding costly disputes saves an immense amount of time. It is well known that the legal system often does not act swiftly. It is important not to underestimate the simple benefit of having property matter resolved right away after a passing, instead of making surviving loved ones wait months or even years--preventing them from obtaining necessary funds and moving on with their lives.
The prolonged nature of the resolution exists anytime there is no estate planning (probate takes time). But the delay is especially pronounced where there is feuding and legal battles are fought.
For example, the Patch recently reported on a delay in a hearing for one high-profile estate fight over the property of painter Thomas Kinkade. We have previously blogged about the legal fight between Kinkade's estranged wife, four children, and live-in girlfriend. The girlfriend has produced two handwritten wills which seem to leave Kinkade's house to her while establishing a museum. The wife and children contest the wills.
Yet, before even getting to the legal challenge on the authenticity of the wills, ancillary arguments have broken out on the need for the girlfriend to pay rent on the home--she is currently living in it. The sides have disputed the living situation and argued about the safety of the belonging within the home valued at millions. Thus far the wife and children have had no access to that property, even though Kinkade died nearly nine months ago. A hearing was schedule to resolve the personal property matter earlier this month. However, that was postponed until this week.
Even then, once the personal property issue is resolved, that won't end the matter as it still does not resolve the merit of the holographic wills. The fate of the home and the rest of the estate (valued at over $60 million) remains undecided.
The take-away lesson is a reminder of the fact that disputes often drag out for years. Beyond avoiding the stress and uncertainty of a legal battle, proper estate planning also ensures timeliness. No matter how complex one's situation, there is nothing to gain from leaving matters in such a mess that survivors are forced to wait years before having things resolved. Be sure to avoid this in your own situation by visiting a legal professional as soon as possible.
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