Estate litigation is something every estate plan should try to prevent whenever possible. Litigation can deplete your estate of money, lead to unnecessary delays in transferring inheritances, and involve disagreements that destroy relationships between family members. An estate plan that keeps the possibility of estate litigation in mind, and one that does everything it can to reduce the risk of such conflicts from arising, is something you should consider on as you go through the planning process.
Estate Litigation Can Erupt From Unequal Inheritances
One of the most common causes of estate litigation is unequal inheritances between family members of equal relationship. Leaving, for example, a large inheritance to one child and no inheritance to another can not only lead to hurt feelings and personal resentment, but can lead to court battles over those inheritances.
Even though you are not under any legal obligation to leave an inheritance to your children, siblings, parents, or other relatives, you should begin the inheritance planning process with the assumption that you are going to leave equal inheritances to people of the same degree of relationship to you.
For example, if you have three siblings, you’ll want a plan that leaves equal inheritances to each of them. If you decide to leave inheritances of different amounts, you should have a clear reason of why you want to do this.
Estate Litigation Can Erupt From End-of-Life Medical Decisions
Another important step you need to take in order to prevent possible estate litigation is to make sure you have advance directives that clearly indicate your end-of-life medical wishes. In California, this means creating an advance health care directive.
Through the directive you can nominate an agent who will act as your representative if you’re ever incapacitated. The representative will be able to communicate with your doctors, talk about treatment options, and tell your doctors what care you should or should not receive.
The directive also allows you to state your medical preferences in as much detail as you like. You can, for example, detail the situations in which you would not want to receive CPR.
Once properly created the directive will leave no doubt as to what type of care you want, or who you want to represent your wishes. Without it, your family could be left to guess at to what your medical wishes would be. In the worst case scenario, family members who disagree about the kinds of treatment you should receive could have to take their disagreement to court to let a judge decide what to do.