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I just spent the better part of the past two weeks on a jury panel. Having never before seen our “justice system” in action, it was fascinating!
This was a civil trial -- two siblings accused their brother of denying them their fair share of their mother’s estate. Listening to the witnesses reminded me of some ideas we frequently share in MRG’s estate planning workshops:
- It’s crucial to have a valid and current will or a living trust to convey your wishes after you’re gone. If you’ve named a charity in your plans, make sure you have the correct name and ideally the tax identification number.
- Keep accurate records of your finances, including money your children owe you that must be repaid. This will help prevent disputes later on.
- Even though it’s challenging when siblings don’t get along, it’s important for parents to try their best to make sure everyone knows a parent’s wishes, if not all the details of their estate plan. This may be very difficult and unpleasant, but rifts between family members only get worse when money and inheritances are involved.
- Make sure all of your documents such as wills, powers of attorney and medical directives are not only complete, but that someone knows where to find these documents and has access to them when they are needed.
Right after the trial ended, I went to the brokerage firm that holds my investments, updated my account beneficiaries and made copies for my records. Next, I will be updating my will and letting my personal representative know my plans and where my documents can be found.
Even when we think no one will contest our estate, it’s impossible to predict what will happen after we’re gone. All we can do is prepare to the best of our ability, keep good records and inform key people about our wishes.
For more information about avoiding conflicts over estates, check out this article about avoiding estate planning mistakes and how to avoid conflict in estate planning.