Ways To Avoid Trust Litigation To Keep Peace In The Family

Going through trust litigation after someone they love has passed away is not something that people will look forward to. This process can cause relatives to go at each other’s throats, and this can be highly stressful. No one wants to have to deal with arguments and disagreements, especially when you are going through one of the most difficult times in your life. You are already dealing with a loss; how can you make sure there are no family feuds over an estate?

Have Legal Documents

All of your estate planning and trust documents should be properly prepared. Sometimes a litigation happens because the documents were not prepared and drafted properly. If anyone has any major concerns about someone contesting the documents, then the documents should not be drafted alone. The documents should be customized so there will be no confusion or ambiguity.

Be Sure To Update Your Documents

If you have documents that are old or you have neglected to make significant changes when necessary, you can be setting your family up for major troubles. Your legal documents should be up to date because there will likely not be anything for anyone to contest or be uncertain about. If you need to update the beneficiaries on your life insurance policies, you should do that as soon as possible. If you have divorced and you have not made any updates to your insurance policies, then your ex-husband or ex-wife will still be listed as the beneficiary.

Everyone Needs To Communicate

Litigation typically happens because someone who may have been part of a will or an estate is no longer part of it. People will usually find out that they were either disinherited or they will find out they will not receive what they believed they were supposed to receive. If a family wants to avoid arguments or fights after a death, everything should be talked about ahead of time, before death happens. No one wants to be shocked or surprised by the things they have been told about the trust or estate.

When you take the necessary time to use the advice above, your estate planning can be the difference in keeping your family together or breaking them apart after you have gone. If you would like a consultation to discuss this, contact us.

Estate litigation and common-law marriage: A recent case in Texas

Recently in Southeast Texas, a man filed a lawsuit over what he claims was unlawful interference in the estate of his late common-law wife.

According to an article from the Southeast Texas Record, the man had known his late common-law wife for around 15 years, starting as acquaintances and then moving towards friendship and a romantic relationship, with cohabitation beginning in 2014. He claims that they had planned a special ceremony for their common-law marriage, but her health deteriorated, and she passed away.

His lawsuit claims that his late common-law wife had intended to include him in her estate plan, but other possible beneficiaries raised objections. He claims that after her health worsened, several parties conspired to push him out of her life and take advantage of her when she was in a weakened state to have him effectively removed from her estate plans.

Common-law marriage challenges

Along with the DC and several other states, Texas recognizes common-law marriages; couples don’t need to obtain an official license to declare themselves married.

During estate planning, it’s critical to include your status as a common-law spouse and ensure that there’s proof the marriage exists. For example, both parties need to have agreed that they’re married; it can’t rest on one-sided perceptions of a relationship. The couple also needs to live with each other on a continuous basis (cohabitation) and present themselves as married to other people. Ideally they’ll have witnesses, such as neighbors and friends, who can attest to this, along with various pieces of documentation – such as a service they signed up for together as husband and wife.

However, without a marriage license and without sufficient proof of common-law marriage, individuals involved in a common-law marriage might need to deal with estate litigation. Other parties, particularly children from previous marriages, might battle the right of a common-law spouse to inherit from the estate.

To reduce the chances of estate litigation, be sure to contact an experienced estate attorney. If you make sure your estate documents state your intentions clearly and explicitly include your common-law marriage, you’ll have a better chance at avoiding a legal battle. And in the event that you’re already facing such a battle, you’ll need strong legal representation.

Guardianship Litigation: How Can You Determine When It Is Needed?

Guardianship Litigation can certainly be a challenging, stressful, and emotional time for a family. For some families and under some certain circumstances, guardianship litigation may be the last hope. However, this process could be avoided if an estate is planned thoroughly and carefully.

Typically, a family talks about their loved ones health and physical and mental abilities to help determine how a loved one will be taken care of. If a family wants to avoid this type of litigation, here or some things that a spouse or other relative can choose to do:

  • The parent is moved into a nursing home
  • The parent is moved into assisted living housing
  • The elderly or ill parent lives with one of the children who are now adults

Does the parent have a diminished capacity? If not, then your loved one may feel more comfortable in having an attorney help prepare a power of attorney. If a power of attorney is assigned, guardianship litigation may not be needed because the guardian will be appointed. If your family truly wants to avoid litigation, then someone can set up a trust.

If your loved one does has a diminished capacity, then what can you do? If your loved one is married, then the husband or wife can petition a court to help determine the level of capacity. If there is no spouse, an adult child can file the petition.

The litigation process may not always consist of friendly conversations. However, whatever happens during this process, there should be a clear understanding of what is needed.

If you have a loved one who may need to be appointed a guardian because of their state of mind or health, contact us for a consultation.

Legal Battle over Robin Williams’ Estate

In August of 2014, Robin Williams passed away in his northern California home at the age of 63.  Williams is survived by his spouse, Susan Schneider Williams and his three adult children from prior marriages, Zak Williams, Zelda Williams and Cody Williams.  Robin executed a Will and Trust prior to his death that describe in detail how he intended to divide his estate, which total approximately $45 million.

However, Susan Williams has filed suit against the children seeking a Order from the Court removing the couples’ $7 million dollar home from the items described in the Will and Trust. Robin’s Estate Planning documents contain provisions that leave the majority of the Estate’s “jewelry, memorabilia and personal property items” to Robin’s children.  Susan Williams seeks to retain jewelry, memorabilia and other personal property contained in their home as community property.  Susan Williams argues that the “memorabilia and jewelry” described in the Will are items only located in Robin’s Napa Valley home, not the home that he shared with Susan Williams.  While Susan Williams’ attorney believes that this will not be a contentious dispute, Robin’s children feel that Susan is attempting to re-draft Robin’s Will to better suit her desires.

The legal battle over the Estate of Robin Williams serves as a warning that even when clear planning is in place, a blended family can easily find themselves in Court contesting the Estate of a loved one.  If you or someone you know requires assistance with an Estate Litigation matter or simply wants to plan around potential Estate Litigation, contact the experienced attorneys at Ford + Bergner LLP today.