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6 Estate Management Strategies to Avoid Inheritance Disputes and How to Implement Them

— December 4, 2023

A highly successful estate-management strategy for avoiding inheritance disputes is to make a meticulously detailed and legally sound will. ~ James W. McConkie, Owner, Parker & McConkie

To provide you with the most effective estate management strategies to avoid inheritance disputes, we’ve gathered six insightful responses from professionals in the field, including attorneys and a spokesperson. These experts share their wisdom on everything from creating a revocable living trust to ensuring a detailed and legally sound will. Dive into their advice to better navigate the complexities of inheritance and estate management.

  • Create a Revocable Living Trust
  • Designate Beneficiaries and Communicate
  • Utilize Prenuptial Agreements for Asset Protection
  • Implement a No-Contest Clause in Trust
  • Liquidate Non-Cash Assets or Arrange Buyouts
  • Ensure a Detailed and Legally Sound Will

Create a Revocable Living Trust

During the probate process, those involved with the estate plan have to attend court proceedings. The legalities during this process are lengthy and stressful. The court will require the presence of all named heirs and even estranged family members who were not legally disinherited. 

The beneficiaries get this opportunity to air their grievances if unsatisfied with the inheritance agreement and get into disagreements. If you create a revocable living trust and put your assets into it, that will skip the probate process entirely. This is an indirect way to avoid inheritance-related disputes, as you will essentially take away the avenue for them to voice their contention.

Loretta Kilday, DebtCC Spokesperson, Debt Consolidation Care

Designate Beneficiaries and Communicate

There are several options; however, I would recommend that you draft a will with an experienced estate-planning attorney. A will can create a legally binding document that will clearly outline how you want your assets and property distributed upon your death. You must be specific and unambiguous in your instructions, leaving no room for interpretation. Doing this can prevent disputes about your true intentions. 

Make sure that you designate beneficiaries for assets such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and all your bank accounts, to avoid the probate process on these items. Regularly update and review your estate plan, as life circumstances can change. This is crucial when there are significant life events, such as marriages, divorces, births, or deaths in the family, changes in financial circumstances, or when you acquire new assets. 

I also recommend that you discuss your estate plan with your family and beneficiaries. Clear communication can help avoid disputes.

Mery Lopez, Attorney

Utilize Prenuptial Agreements for Asset Protection

One effective estate-management strategy to mitigate the risk of inheritance disputes is the utilization of prenuptial agreements. Prenuptial agreements can delineate and establish specific terms and conditions for the distribution of assets in the event of a divorce. Their significance is particularly pronounced in states where the courts have the authority to divide property acquired during the marriage, regardless of its source.

By engaging in open and transparent discussions before entering into marriage, spouses can collaboratively draft prenuptial agreements that explicitly outline their intentions regarding the treatment of inherited assets. This proactive approach can provide a level of legal protection that safeguards these assets from being subject to division during divorce proceedings, effectively preserving their separate-property status. 

This strategy also promotes communication and offers a robust means of averting potential inheritance disputes in the event of divorce.

Rosemarie Ferrante, Collaborative Divorce Attorney, Divorce Mediator, Divorce Mediation Center of Fairfield County, LLC

Implement a No-Contest Clause in Trust

As a probate litigation attorney, I have seen firsthand how a well-drafted no-contest clause can significantly diminish the likelihood of contentious legal battles among trust beneficiaries. A no-contest clause can be a powerful deterrent to potential challengers. It stipulates that any beneficiary who contests the trust risks losing their inheritance.

Image by Andrew Khoroshavin, courtesy of Pixabay.
Image by Andrew Khoroshavin, courtesy of Pixabay.

This potent clause dissuades disgruntled beneficiaries who had hoped for more inheritance from pursuing costly litigation; the potential loss of their inheritance provides a compelling incentive to seek alternative resolutions. To include an effective no-contest clause in a trust, it is imperative to engage an experienced estate planning attorney who is licensed to practice law in your state. A no-contest clause’s enforceability hinges on precise language and adherence to statutory requirements. A qualified attorney will also ensure that the clause aligns with your circumstances, addressing potential contingencies and complexities.

Claire Melehani, Attorney, Gates Eisenhart Dawson

Liquidate Non-Cash Assets or Arrange Buyouts

The best way to steer clear of inheritance disputes, particularly with non-cash assets like real estate, is to consider liquidation. By selling the asset and dividing the proceeds evenly among the beneficiaries, you simplify the distribution process tenfold. That said, if a beneficiary really wants to keep the house or has a specific attachment to the estate, a buyout arrangement can be implemented. 

In this case, one or more beneficiaries buy out the others’ shares, providing a fair resolution without the need to sell the asset. To effectively implement this strategy, open and transparent communication between the beneficiaries is paramount. Having a legal expert around definitely makes the process a lot smoother, ensuring everyone’s interests are preserved while avoiding any conflicts down the line.

Riley Beam, Managing Attorney, Douglas R. Beam, P.A.

Ensure a Detailed and Legally Sound Will

A highly successful estate-management strategy for avoiding inheritance disputes is to make a meticulously detailed and legally sound will. Work with an experienced estate-planning attorney to ensure that your will clearly articulates your wishes, accounts for various scenarios, and minimizes any ambiguity. 

Address not only the distribution of assets but also potential issues like guardianship for minor children, charitable donations, and any specific bequests. Through taking a detailed and comprehensive approach to your estate planning, you leave no room for interpretation, reducing the likelihood of family conflicts or legal battles after your passing, and ensuring a smooth transition of your assets to your chosen beneficiaries.

James W. McConkie, Owner, Parker & McConkie

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