Avoiding Probate Litigation

The American Bar Association published an interesting article in its “Probate & Property” online magazine written by attorney Karen S. Gerstner of Houston, Texas entitled “A Message to Clients . . . Avoiding Probate Court Litigation“. The material Ms. Gerstner discusses applies to probates in California as well.

Here is an excerpt of her article:

“How to Avoid Probate Litigation

“Don’t do things that could cause serious legal consequences without first discussing them with legal or other advisors. Come in for a “check up” on a regular basis and be prepared to discuss every issue and concern. Follow through on necessary “homework” such as account titling and beneficiary designation matters (see above). Plan ahead for possible mental incapacity by having the appropriate documents in place. Make sure the persons appointed to fiduciary positions are completely trustworthy and responsible.

“If a nonstandard estate plan is being implemented, use stronger techniques (such as a funded living trust) and additional provisions (such as a “no contest” clause). Consider creating a “will wall”: a series of wills executed over a lengthy period of time, designed to make it undesirable for a relative who the client wishes to “cut out” (or treat less favorably) to contest the will, so that if the last will is successfully contested, the contestant will still have to contest the prior will, which, through advance planning, would have been prepared to provide even less generous gifts to the contestant than the last will (and so on).

“In discussions with family members, the client should explain the reasons for the plan being implemented, although the client will need to be careful to state the reasons in a way that is calm and rational (“incendiary” statements will only add fuel to the fire and could be detrimental in a will contest).

“Not all probate litigation can be prevented, of course, but a large portion of probate litigation can be prevented by good planning. Good planning is what estate planning is all about.”

If you have probate litigation questions, please call attorney Mitchell A. Port for probate help.