We often get calls from people who are facing a mess because a loved one died and failed to properly plan. If you’re lucky, or if you plan ahead effectively, your family won’t need to go through the headache of probate or trust administration.

While this is all rather tongue in cheek, keep reading if you want a very clear list of WHAT NOT TO DO when it comes to estate planning.

If you want to leave a nightmare for your loved ones to deal with in the middle of their grief, be sure to follow each of these steps.

9 Ways to Cause a Dispute After You Die:

  1. Don’t organize your assets.
  2. Don’t talk about what you are planning to do with your family.
  3. Name an executor or trustee without much thought.
  4. Don’t pay for professional legal advice.
  5. Make promises (without writing them down) to family members about what you plan to leave them.
  6. Talk about your estate in vague terms.
  7. Don’t use a professional trustee, such as a bank.
  8. Use your plan as a way to force your family to get along better.
  9. Name a family member as the trustee over funds you leave for another family member.

Follow These Steps to Cause a Rip-Roaring Fight

Let’s dig a little deeper into each point above…

1. Don’t organize your assets. Assume that your possession will go along with your legal paperwork, and it’ll work out somehow.

2. Don’t talk about what you are planning to do with your family. Your wife and your kids (maybe from a previous marriage) can both assume they know what you would want. Leave it vague enough so no one really knows and they can have a lot of “heated discussions” about it in the midst of the grieving process. Definitely don’t leave legal guidance that could help clarify things. And be sure to keep your financial situation a secret.

3. Name an executor or trustee without much thought. Don’t worry about their track record for honesty or handling money. Even though trustees sometimes run off with the money or mishandle investments, that won’t happen to you. And certainly don’t ask yourself the most important question of all: “Would I trust this person with my checkbook today, while I’m still alive?”

4. Don’t pay for professional legal advice. You can do it yourself. How hard can it be? Just type up, or better yet, hand write, your own will. Fill out those IRA beneficiary forms and customize them yourself without knowing the law. Then let your beneficiaries fight it out after you’re gone. The courts will eventually figure it out. That’s what they’re there for, right?

5. Make promises (without writing them down) to family members about what you plan to leave them. Then don’t do it the way you said you would. They’ll understand, and then they can just guess what you meant instead of looking at documents to figure out what’s supposed to happen. They definitely won’t go to court over it.

6. Talk about your estate in vague terms. Say things to your wife like, “You will be taken care of,” and “You won’t want for anything,” and definitely don’t make a plan to back up these statements. When it comes to your kids, tell them, “You’ll be treated fairly,” but don’t get specific. That way they can all assume what they want about what you’re going to leave them, and everyone can be happy.

7. Don’t use a professional trustee, such as a bank. You don’t want to spend money on something like that, where a professional will know how to get the job done and make sure that your wishes are carried out in a way that’s legal and proper. It creates a much bigger mess when you leave it to friends or family members who may not know what they’re doing, incurring extra taxes or creating problems for later.

8. Use your plan to give the family chances to learn to get along better. For instance, name your spouse and a kid from a prior marriage as co-trustees. I’m sure they’ll get along well enough to be able to sort out your estate together. They’re bound to have the same ideas about how to get things done.

9. Name a family member as a trustee of the funds you leave behind for someone else. Put your trustee in a difficult situation after your death where they have to refuse to give some of your money to another family member, particularly when it’s someone from the other side of the family. And be sure not to give clear guidance about when and how that person should be able to access funds. This will put the maximum pressure on the trustee and increase the hard feelings of the person asking for the money. No matter how the trustee decides, someone will feel either mistreated or pressured.

Bad Estate Planning Breaks Up Good Families

We are obviously being quite sarcastic here. Sometimes the lack of planning we see can be really frustrating! I wish the Probate/Trust Administration part of our firm didn’t have to exist. (This is the part of our team that handles issues after someone dies.) Ideally, everyone would do effective planning ahead of time, and then avoid lengthy probate.

I say it all the time — bad estate planning breaks up good families.

Don’t Procrastinate – Get Started Today

If you want to be sure none of the above happens to your loved ones, we encourage you to take action today. It’s easy to put this off! But it’s hard (and expensive) to clean up the mess afterwards — and that will be left to your grieving loved ones. What a legacy…

Give us a call today at 217-726-9200 to set up an Initial Meeting, or make plans to attend an upcoming estate planning workshop. Your loved ones will be so grateful to you, and you can have peace of mind knowing they are protected.