Avoid the Drama: Plan Ahead

Many times, the conversation about what to do when a loved one passes on is avoided. It becomes too uncomfortable to speak about, thus leaving the topic untouched. This becomes a problem later on in life, as was the case with the Royals.


The Royals’ Case

For many years, children of the matriarch, Ms. Royal, had tried to get her to sit down and talk about her wishes for what to do with her assets after her death. They often treaded lightly on the topic, because they did not want her to think they were out for their own interests. By the time the topic should have been discussed, it was too late. Ms. Royal had a stroke, and the drama ensued. Fights about living arrangements, competency, and power of attorney broke out. The Royals ended up in court. Three of the eight children Ms. Royal had refused to speak to the remaining five who took care of their mother. Amanda Brown’s film Black Heirlooms takes a look at her family’s fight over her grandmother’s estate. It looks at racial wealth gap issues and the problems that not planning ahead pose.

Preventing a Royal Mess

Estate planning prepares and organizes your assets in case you become incapacitated or end up in an unfortunate event. Creating an estate plan can be useful in many ways; it gives you control over how you want to distribute your assets and how you want to be taken care of. Estate planning can also minimize taxes, legal fees, and court fees.

What Ms. Royal’s children should have done was speak to Ms. Royal in a caring manner, asking her how she would like to be taken care of if she gets sick. This is a simple step to an estate plan, and it does not raise any suspicion about hidden motives. This would have prevented the family from being torn apart.

Key Components of an Estate Plan: Wills and Trusts

One very important document that Ms. Royal should have created is a will. A will goes through probate to secure validation, and then it is used to transfer the assets to the named beneficiaries after the testator’s death. An alternative to a will is a trust. A trust does not go through the expensive and lengthy process of probate, and transfers assets more quickly and more cheaply than a will. However, a trust may be a bit more expensive to initially create. If you have a trust and wish to transfer all your assets through it, you must transfer all your real estate into the trust, include savings accounts and investments, and name beneficiaries for each property. In addition, trusts or wills must be clear and concise on who will receive what property, in order to avoid confusion. If Ms. Royal had created either a will or a trust, she would have been able to choose how she wanted to distribute her assets, which would have prevented family conflicts over her assets.

Create a Durable Power of Attorney

Another important component in the estate planning process is the creation of a durable power of attorney, in which you assign someone you trust the role of taking care of your financial or medical decisions in the case that you are unable to do so. In the case that you become incapacitated and you did not draft a power of attorney, your relative or friend will have to request from the judge to appoint a conservator or guardian that will carry out the tasks of a power of attorney. If Ms. Royal had drafted a durable power of attorney ahead of time, she would have had control over who she wanted to manage her financial and medical affairs. If she had appointed someone she trust to have power of attorney, then there wouldn’t be so much bickering over the distribution of her assets.

Write a letter

Although writing a letter may not be recognized as a legal document, it can act as proof of your will or your intentions in distributing your assets in the case that your will is deemed invalid. Ms. Royal had not created a will or trust or any estate planning, but she could have written a letter and left it to a trusted friend, family member, or attorney at the very least. A letter can include details describing how you want your funeral arrangement to be set up and items that you want specific people, who may not be your family members, to inherit. A letter may not be accepted by the law, but your loved ones will most likely carry out your wishes.

Should you create an estate plan?

The time will never be “just right” to create an estate plan because you will never know what and when something may happen to you. Thinking about long term care and estate planning is the best way to show your family you care. Plan ahead, especially with the guidance of an experienced elder law attorney, to prevent family feuds and have everyone be together during a difficult time.