When we think of death, we usually think of it as the result of some tragedy: an auto accident or a natural disaster. However, death often is not a result of tragedy, but rather can be the natural close of one’s chapter here on earth. Picture a family gathered around to help a beloved elder pass on. Surely, it is a time for mourning, but also it can be a time for reconciliation and bonding.
However, all too often tragedy occurs after death in the form of family infighting and even litigation over the disposition of the loved one’s assets. The popular press is full of stories of celebrities and everyday people whose failure to plan properly has provided fertile soil for disputes, such as Anna Nicole Smith and Howard Hughes.
Here are some of the factors that increase the likelihood of disputes:
- Prior hostility among family members
- Family members from multiple marriages
- Family businesses
- Last minute changes in documents
- Ambiguity in documents
The best way to avoid disputes after death is to eliminate or decrease these factors to the extent possible.
- Maintain good relationships in the family.
- Provide for a clear succession plan for the family business.
- Plan ahead to avoid last minute changes.
- Include the whole family in planning so there are no surprises.
- Communicate your wishes to family and other witnesses while you are still alive.
Ambiguities in the documents may be avoided by seeking advice from a qualified estate planning attorney who focuses his or her practice in the field of estate planning. Estate Planning is an exceedingly complicated area with complex concepts. If you want to avoid ambiguities, seek the counsel of an attorney focusing in the area, just as you would go to a brain surgeon for brain surgery.
Finally, if you anticipate a dispute, you could include a “no contest” or “in terrorem” clause which disinherits anyone contesting. Of course, this would not be a deterrent if someone has already been disinherited.
Minimize the risks for disputes after you are gone. We may not have much control on whether our death is a tragedy, but we do have a great deal of control over whether the tragedy of a family dispute arises after our death.
Mr. Ronald “Chip” Morrison, Jr. is a Board-Certified Specialist in Estate Planning and Administration by Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization and a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys. He has been engaged in Louisiana trusts and estate law for the last 16 years. He has experience in both simple and complex estate matters and has helped thousands of clients meet their estate planning goals throughout southern Louisiana and pass on lasting legacies to their loved ones. For more information or to attend an upcoming seminar, please call our office at (504) 831-2348 or contact us through our website.