This is a will and trust story gone horribly wrong. Sadly, the circumstance are not that uncommon. Children from a previous marriage and a current wife battling over an estate. The”Easy Rider” star, filed for divorce shortly after revealing he was battling cancer. Victoria Hopper, his current wife, is alleging that children from a previous marriage are attempting to improve their position in the estate plan.
The judge has ordered the fighting family members to play nice for the benefit of Victoria and Dennis’ seven year old daughter. He also allowed the wife use of the house and support. All of this heartache because, as Victoria alleges, other family members are tying to cut her out of the will.
As horrible as these types of cases are, as humiliating as they can be with all of a family’s problems aired in open court requiring state judge to intervene, it is worse to know that these situations can usually be prevented with proper planning and insight.
While the breadwinner of a family is living and is mentally healthy, all family members tend to play nice. But when the financial head of the family becomes ill? Look out. When preparing an estate plan, the old adage “plan for the worse and hope for the best” should be honored. With proper planning, including anticipation of dementia and acknowledgment of varying interests amongst the family, most of these family wars can be eliminated.
Proper use of Power of Attorney (POA) declarations, Patient Advocate Declarations (PAD), Wills, and Trusts are essential. You can avoid some uncertainty in the actual language setting forth your desires, but also in taking care in whom you determine to be “in charge” and when the time come that you are not. Each of these items can and should be discussed during your estate planning interview with your lawyer. A POA can be effective immediately or, at a future point in time when you are unable to make decisions. The decision to empower an attorney-in-fact can be a medical one made by a doctor or even made by a close friend. The point is that there are many options that should be considered.
In summation, the proper time to decide how to disperse your estate, who will act at an executor or trustee, and when power shifts from you to your successor are all decisions that you should make when you have a clear mind. These are not decisions to be left for your loved ones to make after you are on your deathbed. These issues are underscored in a blended family where various family members may have different interests if not agendas.