Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Avoiding Family Controversies Upon Death

There is no question that issues involving the death of a family member or close friend are unpleasant to think about. However, the controversies that can arise between family members when there is not adequate planning is even more unpleasant. I have known many people who were so fearful about the topic that they would not even discuss their affairs with anyone. But no matter how well meaning a person may be, good intentions do not resolve end of life issues.

One of the most common disputes among surviving family members revolves around a misunderstanding as to a realistic valuation of the deceased's estate. If some family members believe that the estate is far more valuable than is actually the case, there is a almost a guarantee that there will be a conflict. In one case I handled recently, the childen believed the deceased to be very wealthy. The facts were otherwise. The Personal Representative of the estate was required to obtain a $1,000,000 bond, but it turned out that the entire estate was less than $10,000.

How could someone get such an inaccurate impression of the valuation of their relative's estate? This usually occurs because of a lack of information. Commonly, houses in joint tenancy are held with a right of survivorship and pass to the joint tenant outside of the estate. Likewise, bank accounts and insurance policies can be set up with a named beneficiary and they also pass outside the probate estate. When all of the jointly held property is taken into a account, a person may have been relatively wealthy during his or her lifetime, but have almost nothing to pass to a potential heir.

Another simple expediency is to identify to your heirs the location and identification of all of your property that might be passed to them through your estate. Too many people have been conditioned by TV shows like Antiques Roadshow to believe that any old item owned by an estate my have an extraordinary value. Sometimes the personal property of the deceased costs more to haul away than it is worth. If your estate could have physical items of potentially high value, then make sure your heirs know about the property and its value. I hear too many stories of valuable antiques or heirlooms being thrown out due to ignorance on the part of the heirs.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid family conflicts after the death of a family member is a good, current, will, a good trust and proper Powers of Attorney and Living Wills.


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