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Lombard estate planning lawyerMany of us have seen celebrity disputes in the news regarding a deceased person’s estate. For instance, after music legend Michael Jackson died in 2009, his family became embroiled in financial and legal arguments regarding his last will and testament. Jackson’s siblings—who were not named as beneficiaries—claimed that pop icon’s will was fake. Another dispute arose when Anna Nicole Smith’s billionaire husband J. Howard Marshall died. In a series of dramatic court cases, Smith was at first awarded but then denied a share of her late husband’s estate. Smith died just a year after her late husband and the argument was not resolved.

Celebrities are not the only ones to experience the tension of an estate dispute. Every day, families whose names we do not know experience the pain and trauma of arguments over inheritance. There is no way to eliminate the risk that your estate plan will be challenged by a family member, but there are some steps you can take to minimize the risk:

  1. Talk to your family about your plans. Although it can be an extremely difficult to talk to your family about plans for after your death, it is also critically important. By explaining your estate planning choices to your family, you can help avoid disputes in the future;
  2. Do not wait until you are sick to create an estate plan. People often think that only older individuals or those with a terminal illness should take estate planning seriously. In reality, having an estate plan in place while you are physically and mentally well can lessen the chance of problems later on. An estate plan which is created when the testator is in ill health is more susceptible to being contested;
  3. Update your estate plan appropriately. Estate planning is an ongoing process. Plans should be reviewed and updated based on changes in your family.  When a beneficiary gives birth, gets married or divorced, or passes away, you must account for these changes in your plan. It is also imperative to monitor your assets and your beneficiary designations;
  4. Consider using a revocable living trust to avoid probate. A revocable living trust puts property and financial assets into a trust which are then administered for the creator’s benefit during their lifetime. After death, the assets in the trust are either distributed or held in trust for future distribution to named beneficiaries; and
  5. Do not try to navigate the estate planning process alone. An experienced estate planning attorney will be familiar with changing laws and court decisions. He or she will be able to guide you in your estate planning process and help you lessen the chance of a contested will or dispute.

Seek Skilled Legal Assistance

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Posted on in Estate Planning

Lombard estate planning lawyerA person’s last will and testament is a vitally important document. In it, an individual can record their wishes regarding guardianship of children and the distribution of assets and property. However, there are instances in which the directives set forth in a will are not carried out. If a judge determines that the person signing the will was not of sound mind or was illegally influenced, the court can disregard the will. In these cases, decisions about property and guardianship can become incredibly complicated.

The Person Signing the Will is Not of Sound Mind

Often, as a person ages, they experience changes in cognitive capacity and memory. A will must be written and signed by a person of “sound mind” in order to be considered valid. A person has “testamentary capacity” if he or she fully understands the instructions set out in the will and agrees to them. It can be extremely difficult to prove that the testator was not mentally capable of understanding the will that they signed. Often the strongest evidence of testamentary capacity comes from the people who witnessed the will maker signing the will.

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