In our previous post, we began looking at an article discussing possibilities for a parent looking to leave unequal inheritances to their children. As we noted, this can be a potentially problematic situation when one or more children feel they haven’t received what they feel their parent would really have wanted them to receive. This may give rise to a will contest, which can be not only time-consuming and expensive, but stressful for the family. It is much better to take steps to avoid such things while there is still time.
The suggestions we have made so far involve taking steps to underscore the wishes you’ve expressed in your will, providing explanations within your will for any disparity in inheritance, taking advantage of gifting opportunities, and setting up an emergency trust fund. Here we will look at the possibility of drafting serial wills.
In the serial will approach, one drafts a series of estate planning documents over a period of time, either months or years, each set of which is slightly different from the one before. Terms dealing with major property are left alone, however. Only minor provisions are changed.
The goal of this approach is to show that, with each new draft of the documents, the terms dealing with each child’s inheritance remained the same, despite the fact that other terms were changed. This makes it much more difficult to challenge the estate plan, since the one contesting it would have to prove that each of the series of drafts is somehow invalid. That could be potentially a quite expensive and time-consuming process.
As two final suggestions, parents wishing to avoid will contests among children who have receive unequal inheritances may also add a provision in their will that any disputes must be settled by mediation, which is less expensive than litigation. They also might consider including no contest clauses, which disinherit heirs who challenge the estate plan. Such clauses can be effective, but are not upheld in every case.
Source: Wall Street Journal, “Wills: How to Give One Child Less,” Rachel Emma Silvernman, Sep 10, 2001.