Pre-planning can alleviate some of the stress when a loved one passes
When a loved one dies, emotions can be at an all-time high, sometimes making the process of settling an estate more difficult than it needs to be. A sense of loss, paired with confusion about how the estate should be settled, as well as the resurfacing of long-dormant relationship issues can make an already trying time even more tumultuous.
Effective strategies for avoiding estate troubles
With careful pre-planning, however, you can anticipate and head off potential estate issues. Here are some strategies to consider.
Get crystal clear on your wishes
Some of the biggest hurdles that come up when it's time to settle an estate relate directly to lack of clarity on the estate owner's intentions. Making your choices clear to loved ones, including why you made the determinations you did, is an important aspect of ensuring that settling your estate goes smoothly. Having a trusted legal advisor on your side can also help you be certain you've left no questions unanswered and that your wishes are crystal clear and legally enforceable. Be sure you make all of the necessary decisions while you are alive, and communicate them with everyone who is likely to be involved in settling your estate.
Take care when choosing your executor
When selecting your executor, you'll want to choose someone who is trustworthy and well-organized and who communicates clearly. There is less likely to be conflict in settling an estate if your executor communicates effectively with those involved or affected. While some parents feel the oldest child should be the executor of their estate, that is not always the best choice; sometimes that individual comes up short in the skills needed to be a good executor.
Consult with a trusted attorney on estate planning
Estate planning can be complex work. An attorney experienced in estate planning can serve as a valuable, objective party. To ensure your true wishes are carried through, consult with your attorney privately to avoid conflict among your beneficiaries and any influence they might have over your decisions.
Keep your paperwork current
Family dynamics change and so do estate plans. It's easy to let necessary updates to your estate documents slide. But every few years, it's worth your while to revisit these documents and make any changes to trusts, your will or beneficiary designations as needed. This ensures your wishes are current and will eliminate any potential questions or challenges to the will. Contesting of the will is far less likely when the estate owner is shown to have been active in planning and has made appropriate decisions about their estate.
Contemplate how you want personal items disbursed
After a loved one passes, sentimental items take on additional meaning for many beneficiaries, even if they don't particularly have monetary value. Estate planning that indicates these items should be divided in equal shares can be confusing. Providing clarity on your exact specifications can save your loved ones stress and sadness over settling this portion of your estate.
Think carefully about management of your financial accounts
It's natural to want to make certain children have access to your financial accounts after you are gone. But how you determine that access can be confusing. Adding a beneficiary as co-owner of your bank accounts sometimes gives them full ownership of the money at the time of your passing. If that's not your intention, and you want those finances to be available to others, you'll want to consider giving someone power of attorney rather than naming a beneficiary as co-owner of an account. Your lawyer can clarify for you the rights and responsibilities of naming a power of attorney to help you select the most appropriate person for the role.
Ready to make your wishes clear to your loved ones?
Consulting with an experienced estate planning lawyer can help you achieve clarity on your wishes and put the wheels in motion to ensure a smooth transfer of your estate when it's time. Working with someone you trust and with whom you are comfortable discussing sensitive and personal matters is essential. Our estate planning attorneys in the Coulee Region can help with everything from wills to trusts to durable financial or health care powers of attorney. Contact us to be sure your wishes are clearly communicated and legally executed.
Article by Katelyn Doyle, estate planning attorney at Johns, Flaherty & Collins. For help with your estate planning, call her at 608-784-5678.