The primary purpose of an estate plan is to smooth the way for the loved ones that an individual will leave behind. The details of most plans focus on how assets will be handed down and outline which individuals are entitled to which pieces of property. It is important to note, however, that there is always a risk of one or more family members finding fault with a plan and pursuing probate litigation as a potential remedy. The best way to protect against such an outcome is to make an effort to create a clear and comprehensive plan that can withstand any number of legal challenges in a Pennsylvania court of law.
This begins by keeping one’s will up-to-date. As time goes on, the structure of a family changes; loved ones pass away, marriages and divorces take place. and babies are born. If an estate plan does not reflect these changes, it becomes easier for a family member to argue that a plan is not indicative of an individual’s current intentions. For example, there have been many cases in which wills are unclear on the matter of children. If older children are mentioned by name within the legal document, a younger child can be completely left out of his or her intended inheritance.
A similar issue arises when a will simply states that “children” are entitled to a share of certain assets. Do stepchildren count under this definition? What about stepchildren from a previous marriage? Children born out of wedlock can also make a claim on an estate, even if they had no form of contact or relationship with the deceased individual.
The best way to offset the risk of probate litigation is to clearly name all of the individuals who are meant to inherit and to outline exactly which assets should go to which individuals. If there are stepchildren from a current or previous marriage who are not intended to be heirs, list those individuals by name and clearly state that they are not to be treated as “children” for the sake of inheritance. Having these and other aspects of a Pennsylvania will clearly documented can greatly reduce the risk of a legal challenge once the time comes to put an estate plan into action.
Source: washingtonblade.com, “Myths of estate planning“, Lawrence S. Jacobs, Aug. 12, 2016