Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Can I Prevent Children from Fighting over my Estate?

Even the best of sibling relationships can become strained after the death of a parent. This is especially true if the estate includes real estate, like a family or vacation home. More than one adult child often wishes to inherit the asset for sentimental and financial reasons, according to the recent article “Estate Planning: Reducing risk of family in-fighting” from Lake County News.

Sometimes, a family discussion between parents and children about the planned property division can reach an agreement, becoming part of the parent’s estate plan. However, there are times when this isn’t possible.

When the family is a late-in-life blended family, gaining consensus among the siblings may be more difficult, especially if the two sets of children were never close or never got along.

Some children may expect their biological parents to leave the assets brought into the second marriage to their biological children. Stepparents need to take steps to ensure that their separate property goes to their own children. Their stepchildren don’t have to approve of the gift. However, it is crucial for proper estate planning to be done in advance.

If the parent wishes to give each child an equal share of their inheritance and the inheritance includes real property, it may be best to use cash gifts to equalize their shares. The monetary gifts might be funded through life insurance proceeds or by having the successor trustee borrow against the real estate.

This may mean the child who inherits the real property will take it subject to the loan, which they will pay off, or refinance the debt upon distribution.

Families who own businesses require special consideration because some children may be actively involved while others are not. Succession planning will need to be done, including placing the business in a partnership or a corporation. The children involved in the business may be made general partners or executive officers in the corporation. In contrast, the children not involved in the business could be made passive partners or given ownership interests without an active participation role.

Suppose the estate includes valuable heirlooms or items with great sentimental value. Conversations about the individual items should occur while parents live. In that case, the wishes should be incorporated into the will.

If it seems as if the family can anticipate disputes over possessions or assets, an experienced estate planning attorney can prepare an estate plan designed to withstand challenges. This type of protection varies depending on the circumstances and the anticipated nature of the challenges.

One common scenario is a disgruntled child pressuring the parents to change their will to favor the child. If a no-contest clause is used, where anyone who disputes the will and loses the lawsuit will also lose what they would have otherwise inherited from the estate, other siblings may lose out entirely. Preparing a will for challenges requires a lot of strategy and planning .

In some states, it is possible to petition the court to confirm the terms of the trust while the grantor is living. This forces any contest to occur while the parent is still living and can testify to their intentions. In some high-value estates, this is a pre-emptive strategy to be considered.

Reference: Lake County News (Dec. 9, 2023) “Estate Planning: Reducing risk of family in-fighting”

Why Is Daughter of Comic Book Legend Stan Lee Looking for More from Estate?

On Nov. 12, 2018, the legendary comic book creator Stan Lee died of heart and respiratory failure in his sleep at age 95. Lee had amassed a fortune estimated at between $50 and $70 million through the iconic characters he co-created, including Spider-Man, Black Panther, and the X-Men. In his final days, he’d allegedly suffered elder abuse and been financially abused by several people in his inner circle.

Microsoft’s recent article, “Here’s Who Inherited Stan Lee’s Estate After He Died,” explains that Lee’s daughter has continued pursuing various legal actions to get everything.

“I want my museum, I want to do a restaurant — Stan Lee’s Super Subs — I want to do a big Spider-Man Stan monument to put my family’s ashes somewhere,” she told AARP. However, one of those lawsuits against Pow! Entertainment regarding her father’s intellectual property was thrown out of court for being “meritless,” and Lee was sanctioned $1 million in 2020.

Stan Lee married Joan Boocock in 1947, and their daughter J.C. was born in 1950. Until she died in 2017, Joan kept a steady hand on the rudder of the family’s assets, according to AARP The Magazine. But J.C. wasn’t very good with money, according to her dad.

He and Joan created a trust to prevent her from burning through her inheritance before her parents died. The control of Stan Lee’s fortune allegedly led to J.C. shouting and physically abusing her elderly father.

In February 2018, Lee filed a notarized declaration with his attorney in which he said his daughter would often ring up credit card charges of $40,000 a month and that when the two disagreed about money, she “typically yells and screams at me and cries hysterically if I do not capitulate.” He worried that “after my death, she will become homeless and destitute” if he changed the trust stipulations.

The declaration blamed Jerardo “Jerry” Olivarez, Keya Morgan, and J.C.’s attorney, Kirk Schenck, for unduly influencing Stan Lee’s daughter to “gain control over my assets, property, and money.”

Days later, Lee repudiated the declaration, and he, or someone close to him, fired his attorney. He sued Olivarez and his former attorney right before his death, alleging both men had taken advantage of the 95-year-old for their monetary benefit.

In July 2022, Stan Lee’s estate settled the case against Olivarez out of court, and in November 2022, a judge dismissed a criminal case against Morgan after a mistrial. He’d been facing charges related to the alleged theft of about $200,000 from Lee.

Reference: Microsoft (June 15, 2023) “Here’s Who Inherited Stan Lee’s Estate After He Died”

What’s the Latest on Multiple Wills of Queen of Soul?

A Michigan jury recently determined that a handwritten document by Soul Superstar Aretha Franklin found on her couch after her 2018 death was a valid will. It was a critical turn in a dispute that had turned her sons against each other.

CBS News’ recent article, “Expensive court fight over Aretha Franklin’s will provides cautionary tale,” warns that the fight could have been avoided if Franklin had had a formal will drafted by an experienced attorney.

An experienced estate planning attorney could have made certain that it specified what should become of her money, property and other possessions — and that it would hold up in court.

This lesson also applies to other families. You should prepare your estate plan, so the children won’t fight after you die. Estate attorneys may recommend that you establish a revocable trust. This can keep the estate out of probate court.

After the singer died, her family thought she had no will. Under Michigan law, her assets would have been divided equally among her four sons. The sons unanimously selected a cousin as the estate’s personal representative, a position similar to that of an executor. However, months later, in May 2019, two handwritten documents were found at Franklin’s home in suburban Detroit — one in a locked cabinet, the other in a spiral notebook in the couch — which immediately divided the singer’s children. Neither document was prepared by a lawyer, and neither lists witnesses, though the first one was notarized. Both had detailed lists of assets.

Aretha put her family through five years of expensive litigation that could have been avoided.

She was working with an attorney about a formal will from 2016-18, but nothing was finalized at her death.

“There were a lot of open questions and we never resolved those open questions,” lawyer Henry Grix testified during the long-running litigation. “She was quite ill and perhaps unable, really, to reach final intentions.”

Do-it-yourself software is inexpensive. However, these programs can’t customize a will to a family’s unique circumstances and foresee all the potential pitfalls like a good attorney could. Don’t be pennywise and pound foolish. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: CBS News (July 12, 2023) “Expensive court fight over Aretha Franklin’s will provides cautionary tale”

What Should We Do with an Inherited Home?

Inheriting a house with siblings can raise some financial issues about what it means for each of you. Let’s look at some options for handling this situation and possible responses to any differences of opinion that may emerge.

NASDAQ’s recent article, “What to Do When Inheriting a House With Siblings,” says that consulting with an estate planning attorney can help untangle some of the sticky issues that can arise when a home is left to multiple people.

Several siblings can inherit the same piece of property, and when siblings inherit a home, everyone’s typically entitled to an equal share of the property. So, there are a few essential things you might need to do, including:

  • Putting the utility services in your or your siblings’ names;
  • Contacting the post office to have your parents’ mail forwarded to your address;
  • Going through your parents’ belongings;
  • Taking care of any necessary maintenance or repairs;
  • Updating payment information for the home’s insurance policy; and
  • Paying any outstanding charges associated with the home, such as HOA fees or property taxes.

After that, here’s what you might consider doing with the inherited property.

Sell. Selling is an obvious choice if neither you nor your siblings plan to live in it. Sell the home and divide the proceeds.

Buyout. If a sibling is reluctant to sell or your parents’ wills bar you from selling, you could try to work out a buyout. In that scenario, one sibling would maintain ownership of the home and pay the others an amount equal to what their share of the home is worth. Getting the home professionally appraised to determine its value is a good idea.

Renting. A third option is to rent out the home. The upside of this option is collectively sharing in the rental income from the property. This might make sense if you think you might revisit the issue of selling or a buyout in the future or if you’re obligated to keep the home in the family. If you go this route, you and your siblings will need to decide how maintenance and rent collection will be handled, and it might make sense to agree to hire a property management company to help.

Reference: NASDAQ (April 12, 2023) “What to Do When Inheriting a House With Siblings”

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