I recently read an informative article by attorney Jerome Lamet in the Senior Sunshine Times. He states that Americans will inherit more than $100 trillion in the next two decades (Vol. 1, Issue 9, page 2), and that billions of that will be stolen. We all hear the sensational stories about very wealthy people like Brooke Astor, but these problems can occur on any scale. Perhaps your most valued object is a quilt made by your grandmother which you intend to go to your eldest granddaughter, but you never told anyone. Mr. Lamet discusses five of the greatest dangers.
Outright theft – Valuables (financial or emotional) may be stolen from the home by burglars during the funeral or when it is empty, but also by family members. It is recommended that you photograph and make a list of valuables and distribute it among several family members. Put your valuables in a safe deposit box or with a trusted relative until they can be distributed according to your wishes. Have conversations with family to find out what items they value and to ensure that everyone understands your wishes.
Undocumented loans – Parents often help children with large purchases, often without a written contract. Mr. Lamet recommends that all loans be fully documented, signed and kept with other important papers. Will the remainder on the loan be a gift at the time of your passing? Update your records periodically and give a copy to a trustee.
Denigration of fellow heirs – One heir may try to influence you by belittling the others. Protection against this includes maintaining direct contact with your heirs and seeking confirmation of any criticisms you hear.
Undue influence – A family member or advisor may create a close relationship to coerce/confuse you into leaving them a larger inheritance. Maintain comfortable relationships with many family members and discuss any concerns you have with a trusted advisor.
Forgery – This occurs when fake documents are presented that give the forger a larger inheritance. You can protect against forgery by distributing copies of your will and other estate-planning documents among your heirs and to your attorney.
Jerome Lamet adds these advice tips:
- Discuss your assets and estate plans with your entire family, ideally when they are together. If everyone knows the plan, it is harder for one person to circumvent your plan.
- Apoint two executors for your estate, one of whom is a professional (attorney, financial planner, trust officer) not a family member.
- Give assets to family before you die. This helps ensure that gifts go where you choose, and you get to see the impact of the gift.
- Insist that the executors of your estate share details about the estate assets and expenses with all beneficiaries.
- Reconsider your estate plan before remarrying. Don’t make assumptions about how a new spouse and your children will treat each other. Estate planning attorneys can help you create trusts and prenuptial agreements to protect your children.
It is not comfortable to contemplate our own deaths, and often not easy to discuss with family members. Old family conflicts can be stirred up. You may be also surprised to learn what your family treasures. Following these tips can prevent conflict, ensure that your plans are respected and ensure that you leave a memorable legacy.
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