We readily admit up front that the title of this article is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. We understand that the last thing you want to do is put your heirs through the anguish of protracted probate litigation – unless deep down you really don’t like them. In a best-case scenario, a skilled estate planning attorney helps you avoid probate for some or all of your assets. For the assets which must go through probate, your attorney should structure your last will and testament to avoid disputes between your heirs, to the extent possible.
Nonetheless, there are certain problematic situations that regularly crop up in probate court proceedings, sending heirs scrambling for their own probate litigation attorneys. In this series of articles, we’ll point out a few of those scenarios so you can watch out for them and plan accordingly.
Second and subsequent marriages can complicate an estate
We certainly aren’t implying that you shouldn’t remarry after losing your spouse to death or divorce. It is a fact, however, that children of an earlier marriage and the surviving stepparent are among the most common litigants in probate court.
Clearly documenting your wishes is a good start, but there are some pitfalls you may not have considered. Common problem areas in multiple marriage probate cases include:
- Sibling rivalry frequently comes up, but more so when siblings don’t share both of the same parents.
- You made incorrect assumptions as to property ownership. Texas is a community property state and it’s possible for property owned by one spouse prior to the marriage to become partially covered by the community property umbrella. This situation can create havoc between children of a prior marriage and the current stepparent.
- A lingering partition and exchange agreement or other real estate transaction (in this marriage or a previous one), which may have contractually changed your property rights. (It’s not all that uncommon for people to be incorrect about the true nature of property ownership.
Proper planning can help root out potential problems and eliminate disputes between heirs.
Family secrets rarely promote healthy family relationships
Every family has its secrets, but they should be limited to chili and coconut cake recipes. Don’t use your last will and testament as an epilogue to spill the beans about junior’s actual parentage. Of course, your family secrets may not be quite as dramatic, but you get the picture. If there are skeletons in your closet or hatchets to be buried, take time to communicate effectively with the people who stand to inherit from you. You will benefit from a clear conscious and your heirs will have an opportunity to discuss the matter with you in person, rather than being left to wonder (and litigate) after you’re gone.
Call for estate planning or probate litigation assistance
At Peterson Law Group, our experienced probate attorneys help you develop a comprehensive estate plan to minimize the risk of probate litigation. If you are already involved in probate litigation, we are prepared to fight for you and provide support and guidance throughout the process. To schedule a consultation, call us today at 979-703-7014 or visit us online to request a meeting.