Estate Planning Blog Articles

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inheritance fighting

How Do You Stop Family Fights Over an Inheritance?

More than two-thirds of all advisors surveyed by Key Private Bank said the hardest part of estate planning is navigating family dynamics, according to a 2019 survey. The sensitivities of simply talking about estate planning often present emotional challenges to putting a plan in place, especially when the family includes multiple marriages and blended families.

Advice is offered in a recent news article from CNBC, “Executor of a Family Estate? Here’s How to Avoid Infighting Over Inherited Wealth.”

Much of the problem, experts say, stems from poor communication. A dialogue needs to be open between generations that is a two-way conversation. In most instances, the older generation needs to invite the younger generation to get the ball rolling.

A lack of clarity and transparency can lead to problems. One example is a father leaving the family farm to his children, with a plan that also included money to help run the farm and legal documents to help the transition go smoothly. However, the children didn’t want the farm. They wanted to sell. Disagreements broke out between siblings, and the family was bogged down in a big fight.

Clearly Dad needed to talk with the children, while his estate plan was being created. The children needed to be upfront and honest about their plans for the future, and the issue could have been solved before the father’s death. The lesson: talk about your wishes and your children’s wishes while you are living.

After someone dies, they may leave behind an entire estate, with a lifetime of personal items that they want to gift to family members. However, if these items are not listed in the will, the heirs have to decide amongst themselves who gets what. This is asking for trouble, whether the items have sentimental or financial value. In fact, sentimental items often generate the most controversy.

When conflicts arise, the presence of a third party who doesn’t have emotional attachments and is not embroiled in the family dynamics can be helpful.

If the issue is not addressed before death, there are a few ways to move forward. An estate planning attorney who has seen many families go through this process can offer suggestions while the will is being prepared. There are facilitators or mediators who can help, if things get really rocky.

Heirs may wish to create a list of items that they would like to be reviewed by the executor. This option works best, if the executor is not a sibling, otherwise charges of favoritism and “Mom always liked you best” can spiral into family spats.

Some families group items into buckets of equal value, others set up a lottery to determine who picks first, second, etc., and some families literally roll the dice to make decisions.

Reference: CNBC (Nov. 12, 2020) “Executor of a Family Estate? Here’s How to Avoid Infighting Over Inherited Wealth”

changing a will

What Happens When a Will Is Challenged?

What happens when estate planning doesn’t go according to plan? A last will and testament is a legally binding contract that determines who will get a person’s assets. However, according to the article “Can you prevent someone from challenging your will?” in the Augusta Free Press, it is possible for someone to bring a legal challenge.

Most will contests are centered around five key reasons:

  • The deceased had a more recent will.
  • The will was not signed voluntarily.
  • The deceased was incapacitated, when she signed the will.
  • The will was not signed in front of the right number of witnesses.
  • The will was signed under some kind of duress or mental impairment.

What is the best way to lessen the chances of someone challenging your will? Take certain steps when the will is created, including:

Be sure your will is created by an estate planning attorney. Just writing your wishes on a piece of paper and signing and dating the paper is not the way to go. Certain qualifications must be met, which they vary by state. In some states, one witness is enough for a will to be properly executed. In others, there must be two and they can’t be beneficiaries.

The will must state the names of the intended beneficiaries. If you want someone specific to be excluded, you’ll have to state their name and that you want them to be excluded. A will should also name a guardian, if your children are minors.  It should also contain the name of an alternate executor, in case the primary executor predeceases you or cannot serve.

What about video wills? First, make a proper paper will. If you feel the need to be creative, make a video. In many states, a video will is not considered to be valid. A video can also become confusing, especially if what you say in the paper will is not exactly the same as what’s in the video. Discrepancies can lead to will contests.

Don’t count on those free templates. Downloading a form from a website seems like a simple solution, but some of the templates online are not up to date. They also might not reflect the laws in your state. If you own property, or your estate is complex, a downloaded form could create confusion and lead to family battles.

Tell your executor where your will is kept. If no one can find your will, people you may have wanted to exclude from your estate will have a better chance of succeeding in a will challenge. You should also tell your executor about any trusts, insurance policies and any assets that are not listed in the will.

Don’t expect that everything will go as you planned. Prepare for things to go sideways, to protect your loved ones. It is costly, time-consuming and stressful to bring an estate challenge, but the same is true on the receiving end. If you want your beneficiaries to receive the assets you intend for them, a good estate planning attorney is the right way to go.

Reference: Augusta Free Press (July 12, 2020) “Can you prevent someone from challenging your will?”

disinherit someone

Can I Disinherit Anyone I Want?

If there’s someone you believe is more deserving or needs more of your help, that may mean someone else in your life may receive little or nothing from you when you die. However, be careful—disinheriting an heir is not as simple as leaving them out of your will, explains the article “How to Disinherit an Heir” from smart asset.

Disinheriting an heir means you’ve prevented them from receiving a portion of your estate, when you die. A local estate planning lawyer will know what your state requires, and every state’s laws are different.

One way is by leaving the person out completely. However, this could also leave your will up for interpretation, as there may be questions raised about your intent. A challenge could be raised that you didn’t mean to leave them out—and that could create stress, expenses and family fights.

You may also disinherit a person, by stating in your will that you do not wish to leave anything to this specific person. You might even provide information about why you are doing this, so your intent is clear. There could still be challenges, even with your providing reasons for cutting the person out of your will.

Disinheriting someone can be a tricky thing to do. It requires professional help. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney who has experience in will contests, may be your best choice for an estate planning attorney.

There are instances where relatives known and unknown to you are entitled to make a claim on your estate. An experienced estate planning attorney may suggest a search for relatives to ensure that no surprises come out of the woodwork, after your passing.

There are some relatives who cannot be disinherited, even in a legally binding last will and testament. In many states, you may not disinherit your spouse or children. Most states protect spouses from being disinherited, and in some states, children are legally entitled to a certain amount of your property. However, in most states, you may disinherit parents, if they outlive you.

There are many reasons you may want to disinherit someone. You may have been estranged from a child or a cousin for many years, or you may believe they have enough financial resources and want someone else to receive an inheritance from you.

Many high-profile individuals have declared that their children will not receive an inheritance, preferring to give their assets to charitable foundations or organizations working for causes they support.

Whatever your reasons for disinheriting someone, make sure you go about it with professional help to ensure that your wishes are followed after you die.

Reference: smart asset (June 1, 2020) “How to Disinherit an Heir”

picasso's heir

Picasso’s Sole Heir Continues to Sell Artwork

The great artist was also known for the many women he was involved with, but he only married two of them, says a recent article that asks “Who are Picasso’s heirs? Auction at Sotheby’s reignites dispute,” appearing in The Wealth Advisor. Officially, there is only one legitimate heir to Picasso’s vast estate, but that wasn’t settled until after his death.

Picasso’s first child was Paulo, born to Olga Khokhlova, a famous Russian dancer. They wed in 1918, during World War I. Paulo would have been an heir, but he died in 1975. Picasso fathered other children outside of wedlock, including Paloma in 1940, Claude in 1947, and Maya in 1935. Only after their father’s death and legal battles, were Picasso’s grandchildren recognized as rightful heirs to part of his inheritance.

Long-standing disputes between Picasso’s second wife, Jaqueline Roque, and the children from his previous lovers went from slow simmer to boil after his death in 1973. Picasso had married Roque in 1961, after Khokhlova had died. He was 80 and had never divided his estate or did any estate planning. He left an enormous empire—villas, artwork and other possessions—with no plan and no will.

After his death, a famous Parisian auctioneer was commissioned to log all of his artwork, creating a list for the French government. The task took from 1974 to 1981.

The entire estate was estimated to be worth 3.75 billion francs, including $1.3 million in gold, $45 million in cash and a personal art collection valued at 1.4 billion francs. The collection included many pieces created by friends like Matisse, Miro and Cezanne.

One of the many problems he left for his heirs: an inheritance tax of several million francs on his property. To pay his taxes, 3,800 artworks became state property and instead of belonging to his heirs, they are now in the Picasso Museum in Paris. The museum has the largest collection of Picasso’s work. However, that might not have been his or his heirs’ intention.

Picasso’s granddaughter, the daughter of his eldest son Paolo and the only surviving relative by marriage, Marina Ruiz-Picasso, said that the state took a large selection of artwork, and the rest was raffled off to the individual heirs like a lottery.

She wrote a book about being his granddaughter, and it was not flattering. She said that his father’s work “demanded human sacrifices.” Needless to say, she had a difficult relationship with her famous grandfather. For many years, she left his artwork untouched in storage. However, in recent years, she has auctioned off many paintings and drawings, earning millions from the sales.

An online auction of more than 200 pieces, including drawings, paintings and gold medallions, took place in mid-June at Sotheby’s. Marina Ruiz-Picasso is one of the wealthiest women in Switzerland and lives in a villa on Lake Geneva.

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (June 16, 2020) “Who are Picasso’s heirs? Auction at Sotheby’s reignites dispute”

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