By Cory Howes
Even with an estate plan, things can always happen that may cause confusion for the estate—or threaten the plan altogether. Below are three examples of worst-case scenarios and ways to demonstrate how a carefully crafted plan can address issues, from the predictable to the total surprise.
Scenario One: Family Members Battle One Another
Despite your best intentions, what happens if the people you care about most get into a knockdown, drag-out fight over your estate? Disputes over who should get what assets, how to interpret an unclear instruction from you, or how loved ones should manage your business can open old wounds or even create new ones.
Lawsuits between family members can drain your estate and tarnish your legacy. Family infighting can lead to less obvious problems as well. For instance, let’s say you name your daughter as the executor, and she holds a deep grudge against your youngest son. Your daughter cannot do something as drastic as rewriting your will to leave him out, but she could drag her feet with the probate court, interpret the will poorly (unfairly privileging herself and your other son over your youngest), or engage in other shenanigans. In all of these cases, your youngest son would have to hire a lawyer and potentially get involved in a protracted legal battle. This is a bad outcome for everyone.
To prevent such scenarios, consider using an impartial, third-party trustee or executor. Moreover, speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to prepare for and aim to prevent conflicts among family members.
Scenario Two: Both Spouses Die Simultaneously
Many estate plans transfer assets to a surviving spouse, but what happens if both spouses die at or near the same time? This situation may become even more complicated if both spouses have separately owned assets or if the size of the estate is significant. Asset distribution may depend on who predeceased whom, the amount of estate tax paid, and other factors. There are, however, ways to address this in an estate plan and make it easier for your family to understand your intent, including:
- a simultaneous death clause that automatically names one spouse as the first to die;
- a survivorship deferral provision, delaying transfer of assets to a surviving spouse, thus preventing double probate and estate taxes; and
- a so-called “Titanic” clause that names a final beneficiary in the event all primary beneficiaries die at once.
Scenario Three: Passing Away Overseas
Expatriates may need to take special care in their estate planning. If a death occurs outside the U.S., foreign laws may conflict with provisions of an American-made estate plan. Thus a plan may need to be reviewed both for the U.S. and other nations’ laws. If you intend to live abroad for an extended period, it may be smart to draw up a second will consistent with those nations’ laws. However, the starting point is completing your estate planning (will, trust, and other documents) here in the United States first.
If you have concerns as to whether your current estate plan is safeguarded against these three worst-case scenarios or anything else you might be worried about, we are here to help. Contact me to set up a consultation.