Many individuals believe that simply the act of writing a will and getting it notarized will allow peace to reign amongst family members after the testator has passed on. Yet in many cases, this couldn’t be farther from the truth, as it only sets the acrimonious process of probate in motion.
Probate has been described as the ” set of procedural laws that determine what happens to someone’s property when they die .” The heirs who are named in the will become part of the process, and the will becomes the guide for the way the decedent’s assets shall be divided. But simply splitting the assets is no guarantee that family harmony will be preserved.
Equitable asset division can lead to sibling wars
Consider a case where a parent with three adult children dies. One is relatively well-off and would like to preserve the family home, which is located along the shore. He envisions sharing the property with extended family for years, then eventually selling, and all of the siblings pocketing a handsome profit from the eventual sale decades later.
The middle daughter is married to a teacher, and they have three kids who will soon be facing college tuition bills. She is more inclined to sell, but can see the wisdom of waiting for a more robust housing market and likes the lure of a summer home by the shore as well.
The youngest son, however, has very different ideas. He’s got fire in his belly to jump on the start-up craze for the brain-enhancing chemicals market and needs some fast cash to make it happen. He’s jumped from job to job all his life and lived paycheck to paycheck. The only thing he cares about is getting his cut from the sale of his parent’s house.
What you now have is a scenario where, at best, it will become a two-against-one battle, and at worst, a three-way tug-of-war, as each sibling strives to achieve his or her own means to the end. No parent wants to be responsible for causing such rancor and chaos among family members.
Put your assets in a revocable trust instead
To circumvent the probate process and maintain some semblance of control over your estate, a revocable trust is one option to consider. This is a type of contract that establishes an entity – the trust itself – where your assets will be titled in your name during your life. You then appoint the trustee of your choice to manage the trust after your death, which assures that you can hand pick someone who will honor your wishes.
A trust is certainly not your only option, and your family circumstances and financial picture will dictate the best possible estate planning scenario for your unique needs. Those who would like to learn more can contact an estate planning attorney to answer any questions.