The death of a family member causes a great deal of sorrow. Unfortunately, in addition to grief, many families find that losing a loved one also brings about family conflict. While not all family conflicts are preventable, an estate planning attorney may be able to help you create an estate plan that is clear, effective, and designed to minimize the friction between family members. An excellent first step towards creating an estate plan that could reduce the likelihood of family conflict is to understand the potential threats to your estate plan.
Divorce, especially after the age of fifty, significantly increases the risk of a family fight over an estate. For older adults, retirement plans and other financial assets are likely to be a hotly contested topic during their divorce case. The division of retirement assets or changes in ownership of financial assets may be a part of a couple’s divorce decree. Still, the beneficiary designations on those assets remain valid until the asset owner changes them. If you divorce, see to it that all beneficiary designations on all retirement accounts and financial assets get changed to reflect what is ordered in your divorce decree as well as your current wishes for who the beneficiaries of those assets should be.
Whether you are divorced or not, your beneficiary designations or your failure to change and update beneficiary designations following significant life events can set off a family fight when you pass away. A failure to change beneficiary designations can cause a family fight if family members know your wishes for the disposition of your financial assets before you die, only to see those wishes fail because you did not change any of your beneficiary designations. Beneficiary designations, not wills, control the disposition of the assets they apply to. Many family fights have occurred when a deceased’s will bequeathed an asset to one person while the beneficiary designation stated that it would pass to someone else.
A third threat to your estate plan can come in the form of family conflict that arises in families where the deceased did not share information about their estate plan with family members in advance of their death. As strange as it is to talk about your death, your family members will benefit when you brave the potential awkwardness or discomfort and discuss your estate plan with them. Discuss everything from the practical considerations of whom you would like to serve as agents for your powers of attorney and your medical directives to the details of your plans to devise the various assets in your estate. The results of those conversations may surprise you, and they may prompt you to make some changes to your estate plan. For example, you may need to find an alternate agent for your power of attorney if your brother, whom you had planned to make your agent, discloses that he has cancer and is only estimated to live another year or two.
If you have any estate planning questions, call the law office of J. Joseph Weber, P.A. today, at 316-265-7802 to arrange a consultation. You can also reach us online. Our office in Wichita is open on weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.