Although creating trusts serves many important purposes in estate planning, the trusts themselves can sometimes lead to disputes among inheriting relatives. At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., our highly capable trust attorneys have been helping clients throughout Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod successfully avoid trust disputes for decades. Since no one wants to provoke conflict among their loved ones, here are some helpful tips to ensure that the trusts you use will work smoothly and have only positive effects.
1. Discuss Your Plans for Trusts With a Well-Respected Trust Attorney
There is no substitute for experience when it comes to avoiding conflict. Knowing that childhood jealousies and misunderstandings can lead to arguments when it comes to matters of money and inheritance, our skilled trust attorneys can help you structure your trusts with preventive measures in mind.
2. Discuss Your Decisions, and the Reasons for Them, With Your Beneficiaries
One of the most important things you can do to calm the waters is to discuss the steps you
have taken with each of your children and other loved ones who will be affected by your decisions. Your choices are much more likely to be accepted without dissent if you explain them beforehand.
No adult child wants to be surprised that they are receiving less of an inheritance than they expected nor have restrictive clauses on the funds they consider themselves entitled to. If you don’t want to be a source of conflict in your family, having a talk about your plans and explaining the reasons for your decisions will go a long way to calming the waters. For example, if you previously provided one child with funds to start a business or buy a house, you may have considered that sum part of their inheritance and set aside a smaller portion of the trust for them.
We also recommend that you include a letter of instruction with your estate planning documents. This note can be a useful tool in explaining your intentions and can be referred to when you have passed.
3. Use a Mediator to Solve Disputes
Even with careful preparations to avoid them, trust disputes can occur. That’s when a talented mediator can be a blessing. A mediator is a neutral third party who has the communication and diplomatic skills to find areas of agreement between disputing relatives to help them make peace with the existing trust arrangements. Having a good mediator can soothe family members and avoid the costs and stress of a legal battle.
4. Arrange for an Independent Fiduciary as Personal Representative
One of the ways an estate plan may inadvertently result in trust disputes is if the personal representative (aka executor) or trustee chosen is a member of the family since this puts that individual in a position of some financial control. In the interests of dispelling tensions and disagreements, it is often wise to instead appoint an independent fiduciary, e.g. an estate planning attorney, to take charge. Having an unbiased person or entity (e.g. a bank) in charge of distributing or disbursing funds will go a long way to quieting suspicions of partiality.
4. Keep Beneficiaries Out of the Planning Process About Trusts
Sometimes, if one beneficiary is singled out to attend meetings with the estate planning attorney, this fact may later be used as evidence of favoritism or undue influence. For this reason, it is usually a good idea to either not have a beneficiary present at trust discussions or to be completely transparent about the reasons for that person’s presence (e.g. that individual lives close and provides transportation or is better able to understand financial matters than the person planning the estate).
5. Prove You’re “of Sound Mind”
Because most people experience some memory difficulties as a natural part of aging, you want to make sure that after you die one of your beneficiaries won’t be able to question your cognition as a means to disputing your judgment. The best way to do this is to have a psychiatric evaluation to prove your lack of serious cognitive impairment. If such an exam shows that you do have some impairment, then you have to appoint a successor trustee to avoid future disputes.
Contact Our Accomplished Trust Attorneys Today
Well-versed in estate planning law, we will prepare documents that clarify your wishes and help to prevent disputes among those you love. Contact us now. You can rely on our extensive experience and insight to keep trust disputes from occurring or escalating.