Presidential Debate Season – Debunking Estate Planning Myths Part 2
With the Presidential Election right around the corner, I am amazed at the quantity of hateful venom that crosses party lines. Long-time friends can become intense enemies all because of a passionate disagreement over gun control. Family ties can become damaged all because of “progressive” preferences of the younger generations. Is there actually a candidate that can bridge the gap and unite the parties? Both candidates vow to use bipartisanship upon being elected. Can we trust what they say?
The election, and particularly the question of uniting the parties, leads me to an unfortunate estate planning myth:
2. “I refuse to spend money on an attorney; my family understands my wishes and would never compromise their relationships for money.”
Recently, one of my clients wept as she recounted the events of the previous few days. She had been nominated as the successor trustee of her father’s trust. Less than ten days had passed since her father’s death and her siblings were already torn apart…not over his death, but, rather, over his estate. One sibling made unreasonable demands, another threatened litigation. The culmination of the family strife was when her father’s house was robbed by one of his own children.
I asked my client about the family dynamics before the passing of her father. She said they were a normal, happy family. She was heartbroken. Why did this happen? How did this happen? This family lost all civility and their father DID have an estate plan. The trust directed how the trustee should manage the trust. The trust also provided for distributions to all the siblings equally.
Imagine what can happen if there is no estate plan in place, no document naming an executor or trustee, or no insight on how the assets are to be distributed. You see, every individual has a default estate plan. This plan is governed by the laws of intestacy – meaning, laws that dictate the affairs of an estate when the deceased fails to leave a will. But these laws are statutory by nature and simply may not achieve the result you would have intended. That is generally the formula for familial contention. “Dad told me I could have the family boat!” “Mom said I get her wedding ring.” Before you know it, five or six years go by and your children have not spoken to each other.
While you currently trust your loved ones to do what is right, please don’t underestimate the power of the mighty, mighty dollar. Help THEM out by nominating someone to manage the assets. Incorporate a plan with clarity regarding your nominations and the management of assets. Talk about your plan periodically with the successor trustees and the beneficiaries. Keep all parties apprised of any amendments or changes to your plan. Proactively make decisions now that will keep your family united. Please don’t facilitate the division of your family into seemingly unwavering, uncompromising parties.