For your trust to work as intended, it must avoid future trust contests and disputes amongst heirs and beneficiaries. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from experience that should help your trust avoid future trusts contests and disputes.
A living trust or family trust is generally set up by an estate planning attorney. And, there are also a growing number of reputable online services that can help. However, as the value of an estate increases for high-wealth individuals and families, so does the risk of a future trust contest or estate conflict. To avoid or minimize future litigation, we highly recommend the services of an experienced estate planning attorney.
We recommend finding an experienced estate planning attorney familiar with the county probate court in which the estate and trust reside. It’s likely that any future trust litigation would occur in the local county probate court. So, it’s best for the estate planning attorney to have experience with local judges, city codes, and local rulings. If the estate is located in Los Angeles, it’s best to find a Los Angeles estate planning attorney.
In my opinion, asking an estate planner how to protect an estate plan from future litigation is like asking a safe maker how to make an unbreachable safe. While logical, I believe you would be far better off asking a safe cracker how to make an unbreachable safe. In that spirit, as a trust litigator, I offer you five tips to help prevent future challenges to your estate plan:
In other words, communicate. Let family, heirs, and beneficiaries know what your goals are and why. Yes, some of these conversations are extremely difficult for families. Especially wealthy families. Communicating your plans for your money requires your family members to confront their own family dynamics. And that’s precisely why most people don’t do it.
If you are unable to effectively communicate with your family, your estate planning attorney should be able to mediate these conversations for you. In some cases, they may even recommend the services of a trusted family or organizational therapist.
So, you’ve completed your trust. Now, take a little more time to include a separate, signed writing with your estate plan, which explains your inheritance decisions. What were your goals? Why did you leave certain assets to individual people? For legal purposes, it’s best to hand write this explanation, so that it can be proven you wrote it.
This letter is not intended as a court document, but instead as a personal letter written by you to your family. Seeing your words in your own hand will make it harder for a loved one to challenge that the words they may not believe could be yours.
Death is an emotional event that triggers emotional reactions. By writing a letter like this, and providing all insights possible into your decisions, you may be able to avoid future trust contests and estate conflicts before they even occur.
Avoid future accusations of undue influence by keeping all beneficiaries and heirs out of the estate planning process. Instead, use your long-time estate planning attorney. Repeat: Include none of your beneficiaries in the estate planning process.
Nothing helps a court conclude undue influence faster than seeing a wealthy, older individual switch estate planning attorneys for no good reason. What would you think if the Trustee suddenly switched to a new estate planning attorney far away from their home, but coincidentally very close to an heir? And, what would you think if that heir was driving the Trustee to all the new estate planning meetings? Or if that heir insisted on sitting in on all those planning meetings? Suddenly the grounds for proving undue influence are taking shape.
Are you of sound mind and body? It’s a scary idea to have your own mental soundness examined. If there’s any question about your own mental capacity, which may be hard to admit, simply hire a forensic psychologist to examine you and give you a clear bill of health. At the very least, get your doctor to write you a note affirming your capacity.
What happens if you’re not given a clear bill of capacity? Better to know now. Then you will simply name a Successor Trustee to help you create the family trust and/or estate plan. You can even name your estate planning attorney.
To prove all the planning and distributions dictated by the trust are true to your intent, get a certificate of independent review from a second, independent attorney. Their independent review will affirm that the planning you did is exactly what you wanted. A court is highly unlikely to invalidate an estate plan that two different sets of licensed professionals have signed off on.
Does this make your trust impervious to litigation? No. However, it will force any reputable litigation attorney to think long and hard about taking on a potential contest case. If they’re worth their salt, they will see this secondary independent review as a giant red flag, making it much harder for them to win a trust contest.
Contact a trust litigation attorney the moment you suspect undue influence, stealing from a trust, family trust embezzlement, or simply feel that you are not receiving your fair share of the trust, as the Trustee intended. Have questions? RMO Lawyers offers a free consultation, just email email@example.com or call us at: (424) 320-9444
We recommend finding an experienced trust litigation attorney familiar with the county probate court in the county where the trust and estate is located. For example, if the decedent lived in Los Angeles, we recommend working with a trust attorney in Los Angeles. A Los Angeles probate lawyer will generally be more familiar with the Los Angeles Superior Court Probate Division, versus an out of state attorney.
RMO LLP serves clients in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Orange County, San Diego, Kansas City, Miami, and communities throughout California, Florida, Missouri and Kansas. Our founder, Scott E. Rahn has been named “Top 100 – Trust and Estate Litigation” by SuperLawyers, Trusts and Estates Litigator of the Year, and Best Lawyers in America for Litigation – Trusts and Estates. For a free consultation, call (424) 320-9444 or visit: https://rmolawyers.com