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“If you want to see people change…

Show me a sick or dead body with money!”

If you attended any of my presentations, you have heard me say this often. Yes, it is sad, unfortunate, and uncomfortable, but most important, it is also true!

Most families are happy families. They get together for the holidays, share laughs, and tell stories. Everyone gets along and enjoys each other’s company. Then, the matriarch or patriarch dies. Suddenly, years of pent-up resentment and hurt feelings bubble to the surface, and the once-happy family is now embroiled in litigation over the decedent’s estate.

When everyone is alive and happy, it is easy to think nothing will break a family apart. Many people think because everyone is getting along, estate planning is not needed. Why? Because my loving harmonious family would never fight over money! Everyone will look out for one another and do what is fair. If you have lived long enough, you almost feel sorry for the person who truly believes such a myth. It is crucial you have a properly prepared estate plan. Failing to plan not only takes all of the control out of your hands, it can also leave hurt feelings and possible confusion over what your true wishes were. This confusion will force family members to the only source able to remedy the misunderstanding: the probate court. And probate court usually also means attorney fees!

While a lack of planning can lead to disastrous consequences, poor planning can be just as harmful. Documents that are not up to date, vague, or improperly prepared can lead family members to challenge them. If the documents are not clear, family members may have differing opinions as to the true intention of the decedent. This is especially unfortunate for those with a trust: One of the primary reasons to have a trust prepared is to avoid court involvement.

If your documents are up to date and clearly state your intentions, but you worry your decisions may displease your family, you do have the ability to include a no-contest clause that may prevent or limit challenges to your will or trust. A no-contest clause is a provision that states if a person contests your will or trust—whichever document contains the clause—and is unsuccessful, they will receive nothing. However, their effectiveness can vary from state to state, so if you think your family might contest your wishes, it is incredibly important to seek the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

One common situation where contests c