Our New York elder law estate planning lawyers know that proper estate planning can help clients save money on taxes and probate costs, ultimately allowing them to pass on more of their assets at death. Besides leaving a larger estate, preparation also ensures that the distribution is likely to occur exactly as desired. Unfortunately, family infighting can erupt after a death that leads to a lawsuit challenging an estate. These legal struggles tear families apart and can distort the intent of the one who has passed.
Estate battles should be avoided at all costs. Last week Forbes published a helpful “tip list” of common sense and practical ways to “lawsuit proof” an estate. For one thing, it is very helpful to divide up specific possessions among friends and family members before death. Distributing family heirlooms–like a wedding ring, antique furniture, and similar items–can be contentious if not done ahead of time. There is no “right” way to divide these possessions, but communication is crucial. Talking about the issue gives families a chance to understand what items actually matter to each of them and avoid lawsuit-provoking surprises at death.
If you give large loans, advances, or gifts to children while alive it is helpful to provide close records of the transfer. Sometimes a parent will give a child a large amount of money–perhaps for a down payment on a house. Afterwards there may be disagreement about whether that money was “in advance” of an inheritance. By unequivocally clarifying your intent beforehand, a donor may prevent others from litigation the issue in the future.
One of the most common allegations in estate litigation is that someone did not have sound mind when their plan was created. Understanding this risk and accounting for it can go a long way in preventing a lawsuit ever being brought. Some seniors who seem vulnerable may be particularly apt to having their wishes attacked on this ground. In those cases evaluation by a treating physician and geriatric psychiatrist immediately before signing documents can help dissuade potential litigants from attacking the estate plan.
Take a look at the full “tip list” and consider what strategies may be helpful for your family. A visit to a New York estate planning attorney is also essential. Many of these lawyers can both perform the legal work necessary as well as share common sense insight about how to avoid family infighting taken from their experience working other families over the years.
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