5. Lack of Planning: What To Do?
The most important first step is planning, but not necessarily estate planning. By the time one of these situations has begun, it’s too late for thorough estate planning. Indeed, many of these situations occur despite good estate planning. Instead, your client needs to prepare for battle. That does not mean racing to the courthouse to sue everyone in sight. It does mean thinking through your options and taking initial steps to prepare for a potential fight.
The second step is to remember that the loved one’s will is not the only issue. In fact, for most people, the will is much less important than other documents. A last will and testament controls only assets belonging to the deceased’s estate. Most people, however, do not have significant assets in their estate. Instead, most people’s sizable assets pass outside the estate, probate and are not controlled by the will.
For example, most retirement accounts, investment accounts, and life insurance policies use payable-on-death beneficiary forms which designate who gets the particular asset at issue. The will does not override these forms.
So, as an estate dispute is simmering, it is vitally important to make sure that these non-probate assets are considered. Otherwise, there is a great risk of winning the battle over the will, but losing the war over the real assets.