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Why Is Estate Litigation on the Rise and How Can I Avoid It?

Estate Planning

How to Reduce the Chances of Estate Litigation in the Future

Investing in estate planning can provide peace of mind for you now and protect your family and heirs in the future. The right estate planning can even reduce the chance of estate litigation, ensuring that your loved ones can get through probate processes quicker and without the added expense of litigation.

Why Are Estate Litigation Figures Trending Up?

However, estate litigation has been on the rise for some years now. One reason for that is related to a large, aging baby boomer population. With a large older population, you have more people passing away, which leads to more potential for probate and estate litigation. Economic growth that happened during the lives of these individuals also means that many are passing away with numerous assets to manage—something that might interest more potential heirs who believe they have an interest in those assets.

Other factors, such as the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and generally increasing awareness of the importance of estate planning have led more people to create wills or make other plans for their assets. When these matters aren’t handled correctly, however, they leave doors open for estate litigation.

How to Avoid Estate Litigation

If you want to minimize the risks that your estate will be involved in litigation, you can take steps during your lifetime to better protect your wishes, your assets, and your loved ones. Here are a few things you might consider to avoid estate litigation issues in the future.

Ensure Your Will Is Valid

Start by ensuring your will is valid. You’ll need to understand the requirements of the state regarding the creation and execution of a will. You may also want to place the will on file or provide copies to people who you trust so people don’t have to go searching for it when the time comes.

If you create a new will in the future, ensure that it is very obvious that you are replacing an older version of your will. You might also want to take steps to avoid issues with perceived testamentary capacity or considerations that you were unduly influenced when you created or signed a will. You can do this by talking openly about your will with those you care about and letting them know the spirit of your wishes so they aren’t surprised by what is in the document.

Choose an Appropriate Executor

This person is also referred to sometimes as the estate administrator or personal representative. They are the person who handles the affairs of the estate, including paying any debts, filing tax forms, and ensuring assets are distributed to heirs according to the will. If you don’t name an executor, the probate court will name one.

Naming an executor you trust is obviously important. But you might also want to consider the big picture, such as whether your heirs might trust this person. If the act of appointing a certain person as executor might cause contention among your heirs, it could spawn estate litigation.

Be Up Front About Estate Intentions

Whatever you plan and however you work to support those preferences, consider being open about it with your loved ones. You don’t need to provide all the details to every heir. However, when you let people know what to expect, at least generally, they are less apt to think there is an issue with your will or other estate plan when the time comes.

For example, imagine a scenario where a widowed woman has three adult children. Two of those children live out of state and one lives down the street. The child who lives down the street ends up providing everyday support and care for the widow during her later years—including moving in with her toward the end.

If this woman plans to compensate the caregiving child by leaving the house to them, that’s something she might want to discuss with the other children. She can let them know her reasons, and then when the will is ready, they are less likely to think it includes unfair favoritism or that it was impacted by undue influence.

Utilize Payable on Death Accounts

Payable on death accounts are those that pass directly to the beneficiary without going through probate. These accounts include many checking and savings accounts, life insurance, and some pensions and other types of accounts. You do need to use beneficiary forms with your financial institution to name beneficiaries for these assets.

These types of accounts can ensure that your dependents have access to assets without waiting for the probate process. It can also reduce probate litigation—or at least provide relief for heirs if such litigation does arise.

Create a Trust

A trust also helps you keep assets out of probate. You can use this type of legal vehicle to provide very specific instructions for how assets can be distributed to heirs. The assets in a trust are heavily protected by estate law, reducing the efficacy of litigation suits seeking to question your intentions or take assets away from your beneficiaries.

Work With an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

Ultimately, the best way to reduce the chance of estate litigation is to work with an estate planning attorney. They will take time to understand your situation and your goals before providing options for protecting your assets and heirs. Call the Bratton Estate and Elder Care Attorneys to make an appointment to find out more at 856-770-2744.

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