How To Avoid Inheritance Disputes

Family members often argue over their inheritance after a loved one passes, and sometimes that conflict is unavoidable. But if you follow a few simple steps, you can properly prepare your family for how to deal with your assets after you're gone. The information provided here is for general information only and should not be used as legal advice.

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5 Steps For Avoiding Inheritance Disputes

  1. Create a will. Just telling your kids what to do isn't going to cut it. You need a complete will that outlines everything you want done with your estate.
  2. Update your wishes regularly. Major life events like a marriage can invalidate a previous will, so make sure to update yours every couple years.
  3. Pick an executor and guardian you can trust. You won't be around to check up on the process, so choose carefully among those you trust.
  4. Consider a living will. You may be rendered incapable of handling your own finances, so consider making a living will and assigning power of attorney if necessary.
  5. Have an attorney look everything over. It's a good idea to talk to an attorney to make sure your will is legally binding and covers everything it needs to.

Do I Need To Make A New Will Every Couple Of Years Even If Nothing Has Changed?

It's a good idea to look over your will periodically to make sure everything is up to date. If you've undergone major life changes, such as having children or getting married, it might be a good idea to draft an entirely new will. But if only minor things have changed, you can add a codicil to your will, a simple addendum that will cover the new items you wish to include. That should save you time and money if the bulk of your will is still valid.

Typical Costs For A Funeral

Funeral Element Median Cost In 2017
Professional service fees $2,100
Transfer of remains $325
Embalming $725
Preparation of body $250
Viewing $425
Funeral Ceremony $500
Hearse $325
Family Transport $100
Programs and death certificate $160
Metal Casket $2,400
Total $7,360

If you and your partner aren't married, and you want to leave them your assets, it's critical to draft a will to ensure they are taken care of. Instead of a joint will, it may be wise to create separate wills that each provide for one another. The same is true for same-sex couples. You don't want changes in the law that are out of your control to affect what happens to your partner after you're gone. Consult a lawyer to navigate any difficult aspects of estate planning, and create a complete will for same-sex couples.

The Most Expensive States To Die In

Rank State Average Funeral Cost Average End-Of-Life Care Cost
1 Hawaii $11,408 $21,807
2 California $8,284 $15,835
3 Alaska $7,993 $15,278
4 New York $7,968 $15,231
5 Massachusetts $7,865 $15,034
6 Maryland $7,847 $14,999
7 Connecticut $7,847 $14,999
8 Oregon $7,737 $14,790
9 Rhode Island $7,488 $14,313
10 New Jersey $7,367 $14,081

What Is A Typical Cost To Pay An Executor?

Each state has different guidelines for executor compensation. Some states have rates specified as a percentage of the size of the estate, while others merely have guidelines and no requirements. If your state has no requirements, it's important to discuss with your attorney and family what you feel is a proper amount. If it's left to be decided after you pass, there may be arguments between the executor and beneficiaries regarding what "reasonable" compensation is.

What Is A Living Trust? How Is It Different From A Will?

A living trust makes your assets available more quickly to surviving loved ones than a will does. Once you pass away or become disabled, the assets could be distributed. On the other hand, a will requires the assets to go through probate court, which can be time-consuming and costly. While a will generally costs less to draft, your beneficiaries may have to pay probate costs upon your death. With a living trust, however, there is no probate process. For more information on living trusts, consult this guide.

Famous People Who Didn't Leave A Will

Name Estimated Fortune
Jimi Hendrix $80 million in music royalties
Pablo Picasso $250 million
Howard Hughes $2 billion
Bob Marley $100 million in music licensing fees
James Brown $100 million
Abraham Lincoln $85,000
Prince $300 million
Barry White $20 million

In Depth

You've worked hard to save for your loved ones, but sometimes leaving behind assets can create more strife among family members than if you'd died with nothing. Follow these steps to avoid disputes over your inheritance so your family can be taken care of when you pass.

Step #1: create a will. Consider the case of Howard Hughes, who amassed a fortune by his death in 1976, but left behind no will, meaning he died "Inestate." The court battle over his estate lasted 34 years, and included dozens of relatives as well as a woman who claimed to have been his wife and a man who claimed Hughes promised him $156 million for giving him a ride in 1967.

The problem isn't just in not leaving a will at all, but also in not leaving a legally binding one. Each state has specific rules regarding witnesses and signatures, and if you don't follow them, your heirs can end up in probate court fighting it out just like Prince's or James Brown's. It won't matter that you've left a lot behind if the courts can't decide who gets what.

It won't matter that you've left a lot behind if the courts can't decide who gets what.

Understanding the tax implications of your will is key for anyone who has saved a lot of money, particularly if you fall under the estate tax. But even if you're not rich, arguments over assets can split families apart and create bad blood that lasts for years. Before making out your will, consult our full guide to avoiding inheritance disputes. You can find it right beneath this video.

Step #2: update your wishes regularly. You can make a will at age 18, but that doesn't mean you should stick with it. It's probably no longer important who gets your Sega Genesis when you die. If you get married, that could invalidate your previous will. And you need to include your children as well, just in case something happens to both you and your spouse.

Take what happened with Frankie Lymon, the singer famous for the song "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" He was married three times, one of which took place in Mexico, and neglected to get divorced from any of his partners. As a result, after his death, three different women came forward claiming to be his wife. He could have saved everyone a lot of trouble by crafting a new will naming his third wife the beneficiary of his estate.

He could have saved everyone a lot of trouble by crafting a new will naming his third wife the beneficiary of his estate.

Step #3: pick an executor and guardian you can trust. You'll need to name individuals who will be in charge of managing your estate as it is divided up. One of these is the executor, who ideally is someone who can be trusted. In many cases, executors have been known to steal from the deceased, or to mismanage funds before the family ever sees them, which is why it's critical that you discuss the responsibility with your executor and choose wisely.

If you have children, you'll also have to name a guardian. This should be discussed with that person as you're making the will, so they aren't just thrust into the role. You don't want a guardian who isn't fit to care for your children, and relatives might fight over custody as a way of trying to get at your money.

Typically, the executor does get paid for his or her role because of the work involved. The probate or estates code of your state will dictate standard amounts, but it would be wise to discuss the amount with all parties involved so there are no surprises later on. Check out our full guide right on this web page. Scroll beneath this video to get started.

The probate or estates code of your state will dictate standard amounts, but it would be wise to discuss the amount with all parties involved so there are no surprises later on.

Step #4: consider a living will. As you get older, you might need specialized care, and those tough medical decisions can pit family members against one another. An attorney can walk you through a full estate plan, including a living will to dictate what you'd like to happen if you're incapacitated or in a coma. It's a good idea to understand the possible outcomes, and to assign power of attorney for when you're no longer able to handle your financial decisions.

Harper Lee, the author famous for "To Kill A Mockingbird," shocked readers when she released another book, "Go Set A Watchman," after decades of inactivity. There were accusations that her attorney was taking advantage of her, and that she was manipulated into releasing the book. Make sure to pick someone you trust to handle your affairs, and select that person officially before it's too late.

Step #5: have an attorney look everything over. If you have complicated requests for your assets, your funeral, or your remains, then scribbling down a few lines isn't going to cut it. You need someone to make sure your official document is specific enough and covers all possible outcomes.

If you have complicated requests for your assets, your funeral, or your remains, then scribbling down a few lines isn't going to cut it.

After baseball legend Ted Williams died in 2002, his body was to be cremated, but another signed document said he wanted to be frozen in biostasis. His head was removed from his body, the two sections stored in separate freezing tanks, and the head was damaged, while the company said it wasn't paid its full fee. In the end, no one was happy with what happened to him.

We aren't lawyers, and this isn't legal advice, but if you really want your head frozen, do it right and find a good attorney, even one that doesn't specialize in cryogenic freezing. Don't proceed without understanding everything that should go in your will to help avoid fights among your loved ones after you're gone. Check out our full guide to avoiding inheritance disputes right on this page. Scroll beneath this video to read it.

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