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Steps to Minimize Inheritance Battles

Steps to Minimize Inheritance Battles

There are steps to take to minimize, if not eliminate the likelihood of inheritance battles. Inheritance battles can create new conflicts, inflame long-standing resentments and squander assets intended to make heir’s lives better. What can families do to prevent estate battles when a loved one’s intentions aren’t accepted is the question asked by the recent article, “Warning Signs Of Estate Disputes—And Ways to Avoid Them,” from mondaq.com.

Here are the more common scenarios leading to family estate battles:

  • Siblings who are always fighting over something
  • Second or third marriages
  • Disparate treatment of children, whether real or perceived
  • Mental illness or additional issues
  • Isolation or estrangement
  • Economic hardship

The most important step to begin is to have an estate plan in place, including all the necessary documents to clearly indicate your wishes. You may want to include a letter of intent, which is not a legally enforceable document. However, it can support the wishes expressed in estate planning documents.

Update the Estate Plan. Does your estate plan still achieve the desired outcome? This is especially important if the family has experienced big changes to finances or relationships. An estate plan from ten years ago may not reflect current circumstances.

Make Distributions Now. For some families, giving with “warm hands” is a gratifying experience and can remove wealth from the estate to avoid battles as everything’s already been given away. The pleasure of seeing families enjoy the fruits of your labor is not to be underestimated, like a granddaughter who is able to buy a home of her own or an entrepreneurial loved one getting help in a business venture.

Appoint a Non-Family Member as a Trustee. Warring factions within a family are not likely to resolve things on their own, especially when cash is at stake. Appointing a family member as a trustee could cause them to become a lightning rod for all of the family’s tensions. Without the confidence of beneficiaries, accusations of self-dealing or an innocent mistake could lead to litigation. Removing the emotions by having a non-family member serve as a professional trustee can lessen suspicion and decrease the chances of legal disputes.

Communicate, with a facilitator, if necessary. Families with a history of disputes often do better when a professional is involved. Depending on the severity of the dynamics, this could range from annual meetings with an estate planning attorney to explain how the estate plan works and have discussions about the parent’s wishes to monthly meetings with a family counselor.

A No-Contest Clause. For some families, a no-contest clause in the will can head off any issues from the start. If people are especially litigious, however, this may not be enough to stop them from pursuing a case. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to recommend the use of this provision, based on knowing the family and how much wealth is involved.

Addressing the problem now. The biggest mistake is to sweep the issue under the proverbial rug and “let them fight over it when I’m gone.” A better legacy is to address the problem of the family squabbles and know you’ve done the right thing.

Taking steps to minimize inheritance battles can reduce the stress you may feel as we head into the holiday season. These efforts to bring families together and prepare for the future will allow parents, children and grandchildren to enjoy their time together. If you would like to learn more about inheritance issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: mondaq.com (Nov. 4, 2022) “Warning Signs Of Estate Disputes—And Ways to Avoid Them”

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Prenup is a Useful Tool in Estate Planning

Prenup is a Useful Tool in Estate Planning

A Prenup is a useful tool in your estate planning. Forbes’ recent article entitled “Prenuptial Agreement: What Is A Prenup & How Do I Get One?” explains that a prenup contemplates the end of the marriage, so the couple can divide assets with an objective mindset. A prenup can even help protect a business.

Prenups allow you to determine if alimony will be due if the marriage ends, as well as the amount and terms of those payments. A prenup can also say what kind of bequests you leave to each other in your will. It can also be good for couples trying to keep separate significant pieces of personal property, including future inheritances and other anticipated income. This is common for couples with a significant age or wealth difference and among older or remarrying couples.

Prenups Aren’t Just for the Very Wealthy. A Prenup can be a useful tool for almost everyone’s estate planning.

Protect Family Heirlooms. If you have a family heirloom and want to make sure that if your marriage ends, you’ll get to keep it, you can draft a prenuptial agreement that states the family heirloom is yours.

Pass Property to Children from Prior Marriages. A prenup can be used to establish property rights for second marriages. If you have children from a previous marriage, you can protect their interests in your assets and property.

Clarify Financial Rights. Prenups can help you decide now how assets will be split up instead of waiting until divorce proceedings. While divorce may never come, determining the financial distribution now saves time and headache.

Debt Protection. Prenups also provide debt protection. Some people enter a marriage with substantial financial debts or student loan debt. For couples in this situation, they can sign a prenup and clarify that those debts remain the separate responsibility of the spouse who incurred them. They can also decide how debts incurred during the marriage will be handled.

Avoid Emotional Arguments. The end of a marriage and divorce is emotional. It can be an overwhelming and upsetting process. When you’re negotiating with your spouse about assets, tempers can cloud your judgment about asset distribution. Contemplating these items with a clearer head is better for all.

Take time to consider how you want to craft a prenup. It can have a significant impact on your assets and your goals for your heirs. If you would like to read more about prenups and other forms of asset protection, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 24, 2022) “Prenuptial Agreement: What Is A Prenup & How Do I Get One?”

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The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 4 – How To Give Yourself a Charitable Gift is out now!

The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 4 is out now!

The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 4 – How To Give Yourself a Charitable Gift is out now!

This is the time of the year when people feel most inclined to provide donations to organizations and charities that mean something to them. The saying goes that “Charity Begins at Home”, but sometimes you can give money to charity and bring it back home too – No Kidding!

In this episode, Brad Wiewel discusses charitable donations and how you can use “give and get” techniques to turn those donations into income and tax deductions for yourself. Just in time for the holiday season. You do not want to miss this one! These are complex estate and tax matters, requiring the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney for optimal results. If you would like to learn more about charitable giving in your estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insights into the confusing world of estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand. It is Estate Planning Made Simple! The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 4  – How To Give Yourself a Charitable Gift can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. If you would prefer to watch the video version, please visit our YouTube page. Please click on the link below to listen to the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. We hope you enjoy it.

The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 4 – How To Give Yourself a Charitable Gift is out now!

 

Texas Trust Law focuses its practice exclusively in the area of wills, probate, estate planning, asset protection, and special needs planning. Brad Wiewel is Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. We provide estate planning services, asset protection planning, business planning, and retirement exit strategies.

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529 Plans are a Strategy for Estate Planning

529 Plans are a Strategy for Estate Planning

Parents and grandparents use 529 education savings plans to help with the cost of college expenses. However, 529 plans are a helpful strategy for estate planning, according to a recent article, “Reap The Recently-Created Planning Advantages Of 529 Plans” from Forbes.

There’s no federal income tax deduction for contributions to a 529 account. However, 35 states provide a state income tax benefit—a credit or deduction—for contributions, as long as the account is in the state’s plan. Six of those 35 states provide income tax benefits for contributions to any 529 plan, regardless of the state it’s based in.

Contributions also receive federal estate and gift tax benefits. A contribution qualifies for the annual gift tax exclusion, which is $16,000 per beneficiary for gifts made in 2022. Making a contribution up to this amount avoids gift taxes and, even better, doesn’t reduce your lifetime estate and gift tax exemption amount.

Benefits don’t stop there. If it works with the rest of your estate and tax planning, in one year, you can use up to five years’ worth of annual gift tax exclusions with 529 contributions. You may contribute up to $80,000 per beneficiary without triggering gift taxes or reducing your lifetime exemption.

You can, of course, make smaller amounts without incurring gift taxes. However, if this size gift works with your estate plan, you can choose to use the annual exclusion for a grandchild for the next five years. Making this move can remove a significant amount from your estate for federal estate tax purposes.

While the money is out of your estate, you still maintain some control over it. You choose among the investment options offered by the 529 plan. You also have the ability to change the beneficiary of the account to another family member or even to yourself, if it will be used for qualified educational purposes.

The money can be withdrawn from a 529 account if it is needed or if it becomes clear the beneficiary won’t use it for educational purposes. The accumulated income and gains will be taxed and subject to a 10% penalty but the original contribution is not taxed or penalized. It may be better to change the beneficiary if another family member is more likely to need it.

As long as they remain in the account, investment income and gains earned compound tax free. Distributions are also tax free, as long as they are used to pay for qualified education expenses.

In recent years, the definition of qualified educational expenses has changed. When these accounts were first created, many did not permit money to be spent on computers and internet fees. Today, they can be used for computers, room, and board, required books and supplies, tuition and most fees.

The most recent expansion is that 529 accounts can be used to pay for a certain amount of student debt. However, if it is used to pay interest on a loan, the interest is not tax deductible.

Finally, a 2021 law made it possible for a grandparent to set up a 529 account for a grandchild and distributions from the 529 account are not counted as income to the grandchild. This is important when students are applying for financial aid; before this law changed, the funds in the 529 accounts would reduce the student’s likelihood of getting financial aid.

Two factors to consider: which state’s 529 is most advantageous to you and how it can be used as part of a strategy for your estate planning. If you would like to learn more about 529 plans, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 27, 2022) “Reap The Recently-Created Planning Advantages Of 529 Plans”

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There is Great Value in Special Needs Trust

There is Great Value in Special Needs Trust

Parents with children who have special needs know they play a pivotal role in their child’s medical, social, emotional and mental health. They also face the challenges of figuring out government assistance programs like Medicaid and how these and other programs provide much-needed help throughout a child’s life. Another important way that parents of children with special needs help is with the creation of a special needs trust, as explained in the article “Special Needs Trust (SNT): What It Is and How It Works” from Forbes. There is great value in a special needs trust.

A special needs trust is used to hold assets in an account to be used to support an individual with special needs. The funds belong to the trust and not the individual, so they are not factored into their eligibility for government benefits.

SNTs are typically set up by a parent, grandparent, or guardian. The person who sets up the account, called the “grantor,” funds the account, as may any other individuals who wish to provide for the child.

The grantor names a trustee, or a third party, who administers the trust. The trustee is a fiduciary and must act in the best interest of the beneficiary. Funds are to be distributed in accordance with the directions in the trust. The trustee will be responsible for distributing funds, following government benefit rules and requirements, and managing tax obligations, among other things.

Parents are often the trustees, although others, like siblings or close relatives, may also be trustees. Parents who are both grantor and trustee generally name a successor trustee to take over after they die, become incapacitated or resign from their role.

A person who may not be able to support themselves due to a medical condition or a disability can gain financial security from an SNT. This is one of the great values of a special needs trust.

Someone with special needs is likely to rely on means-tested government benefits, like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid. These benefits are only available to people with limited income or assets. Anyone receiving SSI, for example, may not have more than $2,000 of countable resources.

A parent who wishes to provide support after they die must plan in advance, so their bequest does not result in the person losing their benefits. This could happen if money is left through anything except a special needs trust. An estate planning attorney will know how to structure the parent’s estate plan to protect the individual with special needs and their government benefits.

Assets in an SNT can be used for a wide variety of expenses, including out-of-pocket medical or dental expenses, personal care givers, rehab services, education, vacations, and other permissible uses.

There is a lot of complexity involved with creating a special needs trust. For one, there are several different kinds of SNTs. You’ll want to select the one best suited for your family. Laws about means-tested benefits vary across states, so you’ll need to work with an estate planning attorney familiar with the laws of your state.

A well-drafted estate plan, incorporating a special needs trust can be of great value to the parents of a child with special needs.  It will provide your loved one with the resources to maintain as much normalcy as possible as they adjust to life without their parents. If you would like to learn more about special needs planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (Sep. 22, 2022) “Special Needs Trust (SNT): What It Is and How It Works”

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Funds Available to Help Seniors Age in Place

Funds Available to Help Seniors Age in Place

The federal government has made funds available to help seniors age in place. Seasons’ recent article entitled “Federal grant will fund $15 million in aging-in-place home projects” provides everything you need to know about the latest on aging in place. The government, through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is making $15 million in funds available to help seniors age in place. This funding is made available through HUD’s Older Adult Home Modification Program.

“The funding opportunity … will assist experienced nonprofit organizations, state and local governments, and public housing authorities in undertaking comprehensive programs that make safety and functional home modifications, repairs and renovations to meet the needs of low-income elderly homeowners,” HUD officials said in a statement.

The goal of the program is to assist low-income and older adult homeowners (at least age 62) to remain in their homes by providing low-cost, low barrier and high-impact home modifications to reduce their risk of falling, improve general safety, increase accessibility and to improve functional abilities in the home.

“This is about enabling older adults to remain in the comfort of their family home, where they have made their life,” the spokesperson said, “rather than having to move to a nursing home or other assisted care facilities.”

With an estimated 20% of the population reaching age 65 by 2040, the home modification program aims to assist older adults who remain in their homes safely with honor and respect.

“We must allow our nation’s seniors to age-in-place with dignity,” said HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge in a statement. “This funding will give seniors the flexibility to make changes to their existing homes—changes that will keep them safe and allow them to gracefully adjust to their changing lifestyle.”

Eligible applicants include experienced nonprofit organizations, state and local governments and public housing authorities that have at least three years of experience in providing services to the elderly. Individuals, foreign entities and sole proprietorship organizations are not eligible to apply or receive funds, according to HUD. As a result, there’s no individual application homeowners or family members need to fill out to receive funding. Homeowners, family members, caregivers and other interested parties who want to get help and receive home modifications need to apply through a certain institution by contacting organizations in their area in the process of applying for funds or that have already received funds.

“Caregivers can contact the local organization that has a home modification grant, and let the grantee know that they are caregivers for a family with a family member that is age 62 and older, who owns the home they live in and are interested in having the family’s home modified under HUD’s Home Modification grant program to help them age in place,” a HUD spokesperson said. If you would like to learn more about aging in place, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference:  Seasons (Sep. 19, 2022) “Federal grant will fund $15 million in aging-in-place home projects”

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A Few Ways to Transfer Home to Your Children

A Few Ways to Transfer Home to Your Children

There are a few ways to transfer your home to your children. Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “2 Clever Ways to Gift Your Home to Your Kids” explains that the most common way to transfer a property is for the children to inherit it when the parent passes away. An outright gift of the home to their child may mean higher property taxes in states that treat the gift as a sale. It’s also possible to finance the child’s purchase of the home or sell the property at a discount, known as a bargain sale.

These last two options might appear to be good solutions because many adult children struggle to buy a home at today’s soaring prices. However, crunch the numbers first.

If you sell your home to your child for less than what it’s worth, the IRS considers the difference between the fair market value and the sale price a gift. Therefor., if you sell a $1 million house to your child for $600,000, that $400,000 discount is deemed a gift. You won’t owe federal gift tax on the $400,000 unless your total lifetime gifts exceed the federal estate and gift tax exemption of $12.06 million in 2022, However, you must still file a federal gift tax return on IRS Form 709.

Using the same example, let’s look at the federal income tax consequences. If the parents are married, bought the home years ago and have a $200,000 tax basis in it, when they sell the house at a bargain price to the child, the tax basis gets split proportionately. Here, 40% of the basis ($80,000) is allocated to the gift and 60% ($120,000) to the sale. To determine the gain or loss from the sale, the sale-allocated tax basis is subtracted from the sale proceeds.

In our illustration, the parent’s $480,000 gain ($600,000 minus $120,000) is non-taxable because of the home sale exclusion. Homeowners who owned and used their principal residence for at least two of the five years before the sale can exclude up to $250,000 of the gain ($500,000 if married) from their income.

The child isn’t taxed on the gift portion. However, unlike inherited property, gifted property doesn’t get a stepped-up tax basis. In a bargain sale, the child gets a lower tax basis in the home, in this case $680,000 ($600,000 plus $80,000). If the child were to buy the home at its full $1 million value, the child’s tax basis would be $1 million.

Another way to transfer your home to your children is to combine your bargain sale with a loan to your child, by issuing an installment note for the sale portion. This helps a child who can’t otherwise get third-party financing and allows the parents to charge lower interest rates than a lender, while generating some monthly income.

Be sure that the note is written, signed by the parents and child, includes the amounts and dates of monthly payments along with a maturity date and charges an interest rate that equals or exceeds the IRS’s set interest rate for the month in which the loan is made. Go through the legal steps of securing the note with the home, so your child can deduct interest payments made to you on Schedule A of Form 1040. You’ll have to pay tax on the interest income you receive from your child.

You can also make annual gifts by taking advantage of your annual $16,000 per person gift tax exclusion. If you do this, keep the gifts to your child separate from the note payments you get. With the annual per-person limit, you won’t have to file a gift tax return for these gifts. If you would like to learn more about managing property in your estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 23, 2021) “2 Clever Ways to Gift Your Home to Your Kids”

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IRS Announced New Lifetime and Gift Tax Exemptions

IRS Announced New Lifetime and Gift Tax Exemptions

There’s big news from the IRS for people who use gifting as part of their estate planning. The IRS announced new lifetime and gift tax exemptions. The annual exclusion increased from $16,000 in 2022 to $17,000 in gifts in 2023, without needing to use up lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion or paying a gift tax. The article “Lifetime Estate and Gift Tax Exemption Will Hit $12.92 Million in 2023” from Forbes provides details.

The “unified credit,” aka the lifetime estate and gift tax exemption, will also jump to $12.92 million in 2023, up from $12.06 million in 2022. Couples may combine their exemption, so a wealthy couple making gifts in 2023 can pass along $25.84 million.

Here is another way to look at what this change means. If you’ve already maxed out on non-taxable gifts, you can give an extra $1.72 million to heirs in 2023, in addition to making $34,000 per couple ($17,000 x two) in annual gifts to every child, grandchild, siblings, niece or nephew or anyone you’re feeling generous towards.

In addition to making these generous $17,000 gifts, you can also pay an unlimited amount towards someone else’s tuition or medical expenses without any impact to your lifetime exemption. An important detail: the payments must be made directly to the school or the medical provider.

The estate tax is still 40%, but the $12.92 million per-person lifetime exemption is just one of many strategies used to transfer wealth. Others include the use of GRATs and other trusts to leverage the exemption. The bear market provides numerous planning opportunities.

Keep in mind that, while the IRS announced new lifetime and gift tax exemptions for 2023, the $12.92 million exemption is not forever. Under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the lifetime exemption will sunset in the start of 2026, and the decrease will be more than half its current value.

Whether the estate and gift tax exemption will actually drop so dramatically depends on the politics of Congress and the White House and the budget and deficit pressures of the year. An early version of the Build Back Better proposal would have cut the exemption in half but did not win enough votes to pass.

Another reason to make these lifetime gifts sooner rather than later? As of 2022, seventeen states and the District of Columbia still have state estate taxes and/or inheritance taxes. For wealthy families, these exemptions can make a big difference in estate tax liabilities. If you would like to learn more about tax exemptions in your estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 18, 2022) “Lifetime Estate and Gift Tax Exemption Will Hit $12.92 Million in 2023”

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GRATs are good estate planning strategy

GRATs are good Estate Planning Strategy

The first thing to know—GRATs are not just for the uber-wealthy, despite the title of the article “Here’s how uber-rich pass wealth to heirs tax-free when markets are down” from CNBC. “Regular” people and their families may benefit from using Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts. The second thing to know–GRATs work well when stocks are down in value and are expected to rebound relatively quickly. While no one knows what the markets will do today or six months from today, GRATs are good estate planning strategy for many people.

The GRAT works like this: assets like stocks in a privately-held business are placed into the trust for a specific amount of time—maybe two, five or ten years. Any investment growth passes to heirs and the original owner gets the principal back. This is, of course, a highly simplified description.

The family can avoid or reduce estate taxes at death by shifting future appreciation out of the estate. The investment growth is the tax-free gift to heirs. If there’s no growth, the asset passes back to the owners. Lowered assets likely to return in value over the life of the trust are the most likely to make this strategy work best.

The S&P 500, a commonly used barometer for U.S. stock markets, is down by about 24% as of this writing, making now an excellent time to consider a GRAT.

The GRAT makes the most sense for families who are subject to the federal estate tax. While the federal estate tax is applied to estates is now valued at more than $12.06 million, the federal estate tax is expected to drop precipitously when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 expires on December 31, 2025.

GRATs are said to have been used by some of the nation’s wealthiest people, including Michael Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg, the Walton family (of Walmart fame), Charles Koch and his late brother David Koch, Laurene Powell Jobs (the widow of Apple-founder Steve Jobs), Oprah Winfrey and others. However, a GRAT can work for people who are not among the top wealthiest in the country.

In 2026, the estate-tax threshold will be cut in half, unless Congress extends the Act. Individuals with $6 million estates, or $12 million for married couples, should start considering how to transfer their wealth now.

Rising interest rates put another wrinkle in planning for the future. The complex inner workings of GRATs concern interest rates, which must technically exceed a certain threshold—the “7520 interest rate,” also known as the “hurdle” rate—to pass tax free from the estate. This rate is currently up by 4% from October 2021.

Here’s an example of how this applies to a grantor-retained annuity trust. If investments in a two-year trust grew by 6% over two years, a trust pegged to the hurdle rate of October 2021 would allow 5% of the overall growth pass to heirs, but this would fall to 2% for a trust established in October 2022.

GRATs are good estate planning strategy for a variety of people. Your estate planning attorney will be able to explain whether a GRAT is a good fit for your wealth strategy, considering your tax liabilities, the size of your estate and your comfort level with any strategies tied to interest rates and markets. If you would like to learn more about GRATs, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: CNBC (Oct. 10, 2022) “Here’s how uber-rich pass wealth to heirs tax-free when markets are down”

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Steps to Avoid Inheritance Conflicts

Steps to Avoid Inheritance Conflicts

In this case, one brother left New York and had nothing to do with his brother for the rest of their lives. Uneven inheritances almost always lead to poor feelings between siblings, says a recent article “Where There’s a Will, There Can Be a War” from Next Avenue. There are steps to avoid inheritance conflicts.

Wills have a way of frustrating a basic desire for equal treatment among siblings. If an older sibling works in the family business and receives full control of it in the will, siblings who inherit non-voting stock are likely to feel slighted, even if they never set foot in the business. Can this be avoided?

There are a few ways to avoid this kind of outcome. One option is to name each child as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy equal to the value of the stock passed to the oldest child. In this way, all children will feel they have been fairly treated.

If one child lives closest to the parents and takes on their care in their later years, the parents often leave this child the majority of their estate. It would be helpful for parents to explain this to the other siblings, so they understand why this has been done. A family meeting in person or online to explain the parent’s decision may be helpful. This gives the children time to process the information. Learning it for the first time after the parents die can be a surprise. Combining the surprise with grief is never a good idea.

For some families, an estate planning attorney can be helpful to serve as a mediator and/or buffer when this news is shared.

In some states, wills and trusts can include no-contest clauses. These forbid beneficiaries to receive any inheritance, if they challenge the will after the death of the parent. If one child receives more than another child, the other child could lose the smaller amount if they contest the will. Some attorneys recommend leaving the children enough to make it worth their while not to engage in litigation.

When unequal is fair. There are times when uneven inheritances are entirely fair. One child may have a substance abuse issue, or one may earn a six-figure salary while the other is eking out a living in a low-paying position. The parents may wish to leave more to a struggling family member and the other child may actually be relieved because the sibling will not need their financial assistance. A conversation with the family may eliminate confusion and clarify intent.

In all cases, the heirs and those who expect to be heirs must remember the estate planning attorney who creates the will or trust works for the parent and not for them. It’s the estate planning attorney’s role to counsel their clients, which they can do best if they have the complete picture of how the family dynamics operate. Consider these steps to avoid a major conflict between siblings over an inheritance. If you would like to learn more about inheritance planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Next Avenue (Oct. 13, 2022) “Where There’s a Will, There Can Be a War”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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