The newspapers are full of stories about family fights over an inheritance. Grief and loss can bring out the best and the worst in the survivors. If you want to make sure your family is not torn apart by a fight over your estate, here are a few tips to incorporate into your estate planning:
Hire a lawyer who knows estate planning law. Your neighbor who handles divorces or your cousin who is a corporate lawyer are not good choices. Hire a lawyer whose practice is devoted to preparing Wills and administering estates. You may pay a little more than if you have a friend or relative prepare the Will, but it will be well worth it.
Be smart in choosing the executor and trustee. If hostilities may erupt among your children, do not appoint one of those individuals to be in a position of authority over the estate. Consider hiring a professional corporate fiduciary, a bank or trust company, to serve as executor if you think a family feud may break out after your death.
Tell your family what you are planning. No one likes to be surprised at the terms of a Will. Sit everyone down for a family conference and let them know what you have planned and why. It can defuse a potential fight if you make clear upfront what your wishes are. This will keep family members from having expectations that will be disappointed and keep them from claiming later that a certain disposition was not what you intended.
If you have moved, make sure your Will takes into account the laws and probate system of your state of residence. Make sure your Will is up to date and not a relic from the past that reflects your life 25 years earlier.