What Happens if There is a Rivalry Between the Beneficiaries of a Will?What Happens if There is a Rivalry Between the Beneficiaries of a Will?
June 26, 2017 • Uncategorized
When you plan for the distribution of your assets after your death, you have generally thought long and hard about how to put those assets to the best uses to benefit the people and causes that you love. In many families, the assets of the estates are either left to the surviving spouse or split equally among the children, perhaps with bequests going to grandchildren, other relatives, or charity. But life is never is never simple, and your plans may not align closely with the expectations of your heirs. One of your children may have sacrificed a career to care for you in your old age, while you may not have heard from another in years; one may have a health problem or disability that has kept him from being self-supporting, and needs more help than the others; you may have lent substantial amounts of money to one, but not the others, over the course of your lifetime; one may have shown again and again the inability to manage money and you have concerns that he/she will not use an inheritance reasonably. The list goes on and on.
If you have chosen to deviate from the laws of intestacy in your state, or if for reasons of your own you have chosen to distribute your assets unequally among your children—or have even chosen other beneficiaries entirely──someone may end up being hurt. Sibling rivalry is often a factor. And whether for reasons of emotional anguish, suspicion of undue influence, or greed, one heir or another may choose to contest your will or trust. If the will you agonized to create is thrown out by the court, your estate will already have been diminished by court costs and legal fees, not to mention a trail of hurt feelings and resentment dividing the people you love.
Usually, there are no winners when this happens, except perhaps the lawyers for the parties to the dispute. And the hard feelings and family dissension that follow may never be resolved. Clearly, this is not a situation that most people want as part of their legacy.
Who Can Contest a Will?
A will or trust is not easily overturned, and only a limited number of people have legal standing to contest it:
- Those who would have stood to inherit under the state’s laws of intestacy (dying without a will)
- Those who were named as major beneficiaries of a previous will.
What are the Legal Grounds for Contesting a Will?
There are basically four grounds that can be raised as a reason for contesting a will:
- The will was not signed and witnessed in accordance with your state’s law.
- The testator (person making the will) did not have the legal capacity to make or amend the will.
- The testator was unduly influenced into signing or changing the will.
- The testator’s signature on the will was obtained fraudulently, i.e. he believed that he was signing some other document.
Avoiding Having Your Will Contested
These are some suggestions that can help avoid potential conflicts that might lead to your will being contested:
- Don’t wait until you are elderly or infirm to begin planning for the distribution of your estate. to lessen the likelihood that an heir can raise an objection to your mental capacity.
- Consult an attorney who specializes in estate planning and have him/her draft your will or trust to ensure that it is in full accordance with the law. and that it has been properly signed and witnessed.
- If you have one heir who you believe may use their inheritance for the wrong purposes or who might squander it, rather than leaving that person out entirely, consider setting up a discretionary trust. Select a third-party trustee to manage the distribution of that person’s share during their lifetime. The trustee should not, in most cases, be a sibling, which could create even more problems, but a professional trustee, such as a bank, trust company, or an attorney you trust.
- Keep your estate plan current. Life happens; things change; so do families. If you remarry or have more children, for example, your will or trust should reflect your new life circumstances.
- Communicate with your heirs. Not necessarily the fine details, but enough to avoid surprises. Let your heirs know the basic outlines of your estate plan. Being open about your plans can help you anticipate potential problems. If you are leaving a disproportionate amount of your assets to one heir or another, explain your reasons. If conflicts should arise, talk to your attorney about the steps you need to take now to avoid a problem after your death.
- Consider adding a “no-contest” clause to your will that says that anyone who chooses to contest the will automatically be excluded from inheriting.
You have worked hard to accumulate your assets, and you naturally want to ensure that they will go where you want them to and achieve the purposes that you intend. By anticipating potential problems and taking appropriate steps during your lifetime to avoid any controversies or disagreements, you can reduce the likelihood of a fight among your heirs after you’re gone.