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attorney Todd M. Villarrubia

Todd Villarrubia

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Can I Prevent Children from Fighting over my Estate?

Posted On: January 3, 2024

By: Todd Villarrubia

Todd M. Villarrubia, an authority in wealth planning and preservation, brings over 30 years of in-depth, experience to the complex challenges of safeguarding familial and individual wealth. Based in New Orleans, Louisiana, his expertise is not only recognized in the local community but also reverberates within the legal industry.
Reasons to Update your will
Parents typically do not want their surviving children to fight over their inheritances after the parents die. Careful planning may reduce the risk of foreseeable in-family conflicts.

Even the best of sibling relationships can become strained after the death of a parent. This is especially true if the estate includes real estate, like a family or vacation home. More than one adult child often wishes to inherit the asset for sentimental and financial reasons, according to the recent article “Estate Planning: Reducing risk of family in-fighting” from Lake County News.

Sometimes, a family discussion between parents and children about the planned property division can reach an agreement, becoming part of the parent’s estate plan. However, there are times when this isn’t possible.

When the family is a late-in-life blended family, gaining consensus among the siblings may be more difficult, especially if the two sets of children were never close or never got along.

Some children may expect their biological parents to leave the assets brought into the second marriage to their biological children. Stepparents need to take steps to ensure that their separate property goes to their own children. Their stepchildren don’t have to approve of the gift. However, it is crucial for proper estate planning to be done in advance.

If the parent wishes to give each child an equal share of their inheritance and the inheritance includes real property, it may be best to use cash gifts to equalize their shares. The monetary gifts might be funded through life insurance proceeds or by having the successor trustee borrow against the real estate.

This may mean the child who inherits the real property will take it subject to the loan, which they will pay off, or refinance the debt upon distribution.

Families who own businesses require special consideration because some children may be actively involved while others are not. Succession planning will need to be done, including placing the business in a partnership or a corporation. The children involved in the business may be made general partners or executive officers in the corporation. In contrast, the children not involved in the business could be made passive partners or given ownership interests without an active participation role.

Suppose the estate includes valuable heirlooms or items with great sentimental value. Conversations about the individual items should occur while parents live. In that case, the wishes should be incorporated into the will.

If it seems as if the family can anticipate disputes over possessions or assets, an experienced estate planning attorney can prepare an estate plan designed to withstand challenges. This type of protection varies depending on the circumstances and the anticipated nature of the challenges.

One common scenario is a disgruntled child pressuring the parents to change their will to favor the child. If a no-contest clause is used, where anyone who disputes the will and loses the lawsuit will also lose what they would have otherwise inherited from the estate, other siblings may lose out entirely. Preparing a will for challenges requires a lot of strategy and planning .

In some states, it is possible to petition the court to confirm the terms of the trust while the grantor is living. This forces any contest to occur while the parent is still living and can testify to their intentions. In some high-value estates, this is a pre-emptive strategy to be considered.

Reference: Lake County News (Dec. 9, 2023) “Estate Planning: Reducing risk of family in-fighting”

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