Estate planning is, for lack of a better word, prophylactic.
The way in which you intend to divide or bequeath parts of your estate amongst your family and friends is ultimately entirely at your own discretion. However, where this not made explicitly clear a whole host of unnecessary disputes can occur. Discussing your plans with your friends and family is the first step to avoiding estate disputes down the line, as you are giving the beneficiaries of your estate a clear idea of your intentions.
Unfortunately, a discussion alone may not be enough to demonstrate your intentions. Words and conversations may be interpreted differently by different people, and you and your loved-ones’ circumstances may change at any time. For this reason, it is well worth the time and energy to consult with an estate planning professional to make your intentions as clear as possible, and to ensure that these intentions come easily to fruition.
Some Advice from Charles Dickens
The main advantage in consulting an estate planning professional is that he or she will be in the best position to ensure that the words of your Will convey their intended meaning. A poorly drafted or ambiguous phrase can spell disaster for an estate.
Perhaps the most famous example of this was the dispute in Jennens v Jennens, an estate dispute that commenced in 1798 and continued for astounding 117 years (incidentally this was the inspiration for the Jamdyce v Jamdyce case in Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’). The dispute only ended when the legal fees exhausted the estate entirely!
While this may be an extreme example, estate disputes can and do arise fairly frequently. Consulting with an estate planning professional can help insulate you and your beneficiaries from any unanticipated disputes or claims.
The Importance of Keeping Things Up-to-Date
Generally speaking, at just about every significant event in your life (i.e., births, deaths, acquisitions or sales of property, etc.) you ought to consult your chosen estate planning professional. This does not necessarily mean that you’ll need to go through the expense of redrafting your Will entirely every time one of these events occur, a good estate planning professional will simply ‘update’ your Will to reflect the changes in your circumstances.
Keeping up to date with these changes in circumstance allows you the opportunity to consider how they affect your estate plans. If your circumstances have changed dramatically and this has not been reflected in an up-to-date version of your will, it can cast a great deal of uncertainty on which beneficiaries receive what assets. If this uncertainty is great enough, it may fall to the Courts to decide what the best division of your own estate may be – an unhappy position for everyone involved.
Contact Hentys today for all your will contesting enquiries.