The California Court of Appeals recently decided the case of Winston v. Winston-Levin, which reviews some important estate planning considerations. In 1986, Robert Levin created a revocable trust, which he later revised several times. Sadly Robert passed away in 2015, and litigation occurred concerning subsequent revisions to the trust when Robert’s daughter from a previous marriage initiated legal action against Robert’s widow.
The California court subsequently voided a revision to Levin’s trust and ordered the widow to return property she had received according to these changes. The daughter subsequently appealed arguing that the court had mistakenly voided the entire revision rather than just the portions that benefitted the widow.
The California Court of Appeals ultimately found that the trial court had made the correct decision and that only voiding provisions related to the widow would not carry out the deceased man’s wishes.
Fortunately, there are several steps that you can follow to avoid the risk of trust litigation and greatly decrease the risk of ending up in the situation faced by the Levin family.
# 1 – Communicate Properly
In addition to writing estate planning documents, it is also a wise idea to verbally communicate to your beneficiaries what your plans are. This avoids anyone suddenly finding out about what your wishes for your assets are.
Sharing these details orally also helps to create witnesses who can support that the administration of a trust matches the wishes that you had.
# 2 – Specify the Terms of the Trust
It is vital to write a trust in the most specific manner possible. This helps to avoid any uncertainties about your wishes. Complex phrasing in a trust or language that is open for interpretation greatly increases the chances that there will be uncertainty between survivors.
One of the best ways to make sure that the language used in a trust is specific and easily understood is to work with an experienced lawyer.
# 3 – Keep the Trust Updates
Births, deaths, changes of finances, whatever the development, it is a wise idea to review the terms of a trust after major changes to make sure that the details found in the trust are appropriate and updated. Inconsistencies that are found trusts could result in forced litigation.
# 4 – Anticipate Disagreements
If there are aspects of a trust that you believe could result in litigation, an experienced estate planning lawyer can help you take some additional steps to make sure that these elements remain protected.
Some potential changes that might lead to disagreements among loved ones include disinheriting a family member or leaving substantially more to one child than to another.
Speak with an Experienced Estate Planning Lawyer
Many complications can arise during the estate planning process. If you need the assistance of an experienced estate planning lawyer, consider Ettinger Estate Planning.
We have substantial experience in helping people create successful estate plans. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation.