Important tips for avoiding estate planning disputes in Michigan

Michigan residents may be surprised to know that many Americans do not expect to receive or consider monetary inheritances of great importance. A recent Wall Street Journal article revealed that most people aged 50 and older say the following are much more important to them upon the death of a loved one:

  • Family stories: Such as those found in oral histories passed down through the generations and written in personal journals or letters.
  • Personal keepsakes: Tangible items that have sentimental value or emotional ties to loved ones, such as mementoes and family heirlooms.
  • Last wishes: Burial and last rite requests, family goals and dreams.

Unfortunately, many people only address financial assets when they establish their estate planning documents, an oversight which can lead to family disputes.

Estate planning disputes

The days and months following the death of a loved one are very difficult for most people. The dynamics of blended families - often formed by marriages with children from previous relationships - and the presence of former spouses, in-laws and estranged relatives can add tension. When emotions are running high and a cloud of confusion, hurt and loss casts a shadow over surviving relatives, small squabbles and long-buried feelings of mistrust or jealousy can quickly escalate into bitter family feuds.

Issues can arise when the person appointed in the will or trust to distribute the estate assets fails to perform his or her duties. Sometimes, it is a case of mistrust of the executor or personal representative by certain family members. Other times, the appointed person may breach his or her fiduciary duties owed to the surviving heirs, either through inattention to details, dishonesty or illegal actions.

At other times, family members may feel the will or trust does not adequately or fairly provide for them. Will or trust contests may be warranted if, for example, there is evidence that the loved one was pressured into making changes to his or her estate plan that were contrary to previous wishes. Wills and other estate planning documents may be invalid for a number of reasons, as well.

Probating an estate can be a long and confusing process for executors and heirs alike. The process can drag on for years if there is a dispute regarding distribution, long-term handling of assets or contests against the validity of a will. Family members may have many questions about the rationale behind their loved one's decisions. Unfortunately, the person most able to address those questions is no longer available.

A lawyer can help

If you are facing estate planning issues and questions, consult an experienced estate planning attorney. A lawyer knowledgeable about probate litigation, will contests and other matters of estate planning can help.