Foreseeing and Stopping Family Drama Over Estate Planning

Foreseeing And Stopping Family Drama Over Estate Planning

Sometimes it is easy to predict that certain relatives are going to challenge an estate plan. Some of these troublemakers tip their hand by being too pushy, or nosey, or making un-called-for comments about the mental state of older relatives. Others make their demands more explicit. Earlier this year, a wealthy family in New York City made headlines when family members filed dueling lawsuits accusing one another of theft while their loved one lay dying.

Dueling Lawsuits

The Post reported that Emily Lemer sued her step-daughter and step-grandson, alleging they stole her husband Albert’s (their father/grandfather’s) will and stock certificates from her and Albert’s home. This is a big deal because the stock is worth an estimated $19 million.

In a countersuit, “The kids and grandkids claim Albert promised them many times that they ‘would be able to live off of the [stock] dividends alone without worrying about money for the rest of their lives.’ But they claim that Emily has repeatedly declared, “’I get it all,’ and ‘I have full power of attorney and I will do whatever the f—k I want’ with the money. Emily Lemer called the accusations ‘preposterous.’”

At the time the news story quoted above was written, Albert was still alive, but very ill. The fact that his family members were already fighting with one another about how his assets will ultimately be distributed is a pretty good indication that more disputes are to come.

There Are Options For Families In Distress

When it is clear that a dispute over an estate plan is imminent, there are a few things that can be done to prepare for the coming fight, some of which might even head it off.

The first thing to do is to talk to an attorney. Make sure all estate planning documents are up to date and that they actually reflect the creator’s wishes. In order to invalidate an estate plan, a challenger must show the plan is fraudulent, was created under duress, or that the creator was not in their right mind when they signed the documents. Working with an experienced attorney can often lay the groundwork of evidence needed to combat any and all challenges.

An experienced attorney will also know how to draft an iron-clad “no-contest clause.” These clauses are an effective way to stop people from challenging a will out of spite or because they revel in family drama. A lawyer can simply add a sentence or two to the estate planning documents that says anyone who challenges the plan and loses inherits nothing.

Other families find that calling a family meeting or attending a group therapy session is an effective way to smooth over hurt feelings. Grief makes people do funny things, so sometimes addressing it head on and having the difficult discussions that nobody really wants to have can be helpful.
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