According to the website of Peck Ritchey, two erroneous beliefs about estate planning are it is only for older (and, probably, sick) adults and the rich. Estate planning is a plan that is made before death; its purpose is to name those to whom the testator, or the person writing a will, would want to leave behind his/her assets and/or properties, which include anything of value, such as a house, car, savings account, life insurance, jewelry, furniture plus all other forms of investment. Failure to draft an estate plan will result to the application of the Law of Intestacy, the law that grants authority to the court to decide who gets what.
The drafting of a will is basically the first step in estate planning. Through this will, the testator identifies everything that he/she wants to pass on to his/her spouse, children and other dependents, as well as what or how much cash, specifically, each will have. The testator may also choose to draft a more elaborate will wherein he/she can elect his/her preferred guardian for his/her minor children, name a health-care proxy who will make medical decisions for him/her if ever he/she gets incapacitated and, elect an executor, or the person who will manage the estate left for distribution. This executor is also tasked to see to it that the testator’s last wishes are fulfilled, that all unpaid debts are settled and, after payment of all debts, whatever remains will be distributed to all heirs.
While the mental capacity of the testator is very essential in the drafting of a will (to make sure that he/she was never influenced by anyone and that he/she was perfectly aware of his/her decisions), being counseled by a knowledgeable and experienced legal professional is equally important to ensure that the will’s contents comply with the laws of the state (where the testator resides or where the estate owned is located) and that the rights of every legal heir are observed.
An experienced and skillful lawyer’s assistance can also help effectively address any litigation due to a will contest that an heir may file. Contesting or challenging the validity of a will can be filed by any heir who feels that he/she deserves more than what was left for him/her. An heir can also question the testator’s mental state when the will was drafted, citing any possibility of influence or manipulation by someone with interest in the assets and properties.
As estate and trust disputes involve family members all issues, therefore, are considered sensitive, besides being complex. Failure to address disputes effectively can only result to rivalries between family members which can only create rifts in their relationship.
Family members should understand that an estate plan is meant to put order in their properties and assets, as well as to make sure that they will be able to enjoy the maximum value of everything through reduction of tax and other expenses. Thus, in the event of disagreement, which can lead to litigation, if the family members themselves fail to allay anyone’s doubts, then only a knowledgeable, experienced and skillful lawyer probably can.