Methods to Prevent Inheritance Fights
Parents naturally desire their children to have close relationships so they can support one another during difficult times. When a parent dies, this closeness often makes the deeply-felt grief easier to bear, but even families that have close ties can develop bitter disputes over a parent’s estate plan. Unfortunately, these kinds of disputes can tear families apart, and permanently destroy relationships. While a parent cannot completely prevent a rupture over a family inheritance, there are steps he/she can take to lessen the possibility someone would instigate litigation or question the content of the estate documents. An overview of some estate planning strategies that, when employed in conjunction with one another, can dissipate the potential for disagreement among family members will be explored below.
Personal Property Memorandum
Most people understand the need for and the benefits that derive from having a will in place to dispose of property, but a will rarely provides detailed information about which person will receive a specific piece of personal property. Wills are generally kept somewhat basic because of the formality that is required to amend these documents, but this lack of clarity can pose issues for surviving heirs. One way Florida allows individuals to specify small bequests that can easily be changed as circumstances require is through the creation of a personal property memorandum. This document must be referred to in the will, and can only pertain to requests of tangible personal property, i.e., jewelry, furniture, clothes, etc. It may be created before or after the will is executed, but it has no legal force on its own, and must exist in conjunction with a legally-executed will. The bequests in the personal property memorandum should be clear, and laid out in the following manner:
- clearly describe the item;
- clearly identify the recipient;
- clearly state the document is intended to make bequests under a will; and
- sign and date the document.
Dividing the Estate
Receiving a smaller share of a parent’s inheritance can be a psychological blow, and can motivate the beneficiary to challenge the legality of the will due to feelings of being slighted. Having a will drawn up by an attorney, and properly signed, provides significant insurance against the will being challenged at all, and successfully overcoming any challenge. Dividing the inheritance equally among all surviving children, greatly reduces the possibility that the validity of the will would be questioned, but if for some reason an equal division is not appropriate, or there is a desire to exclude a person from inheriting a share of the estate, a will can include a brief explanation for why the person is receiving less or nothing at all in a rational and non-accusatory manner. Taking the time to include this information makes it more difficult to attack the validity of a will due to mental incapacity.
Finally, disputes over an estate can arise from a simple lack of knowledge that can easily be rectified by providing a letter of instructions for immediate family and the personal representative to follow. This document is not legally binding, but provides important practical information needed to handle post-death matters. The contents of this document should include:
- the location of important documents, such as wills, insurance policies, car titles and property deeds;
- funeral arrangements, and the location of cemetery plots, if made;
- a list of contacts for legal and financial tax matters;
- a list of financial assets, such as savings and checking accounts, investment accounts, and retirement accounts, including account numbers and the names of beneficiaries;
- the location of the most recent tax return and Social Security statements; and
- the location of any safety deposit boxes and the keys.
Putting together a comprehensive and effective estate plan takes more than filling out forms found at a store or online. Every person’s needs and desires for their property is unique, and would benefit from the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney. William Rambaum, P.A. specializes in advising seniors on estate planning matters, and can help you leave a lasting legacy. Contact the Oldsmar office to schedule an appointment.