Estate Plans and “Expectations” of the Heirs

“The death of a loved one will almost always illicit any repressed feelings, [feelings of greed, entitlement], and grudges held by [the children and other] heirs [causing those feelings] to come front and center, which is usually a recipe for disaster as far as the disposition of that loved one’s estate.”1 Heirs may have the idea that if a will or revocable trust is in existence a “contract,” has been established between the drafter/donor and themselves.

Any plan involving a revocable trust and/or will is generally NOT a contract between the drafter/donor and his or her heirs. Your heirs don’t get to “start getting valuations on some items and asking directly about [the] will [or trust] so that he [or she] can do “forward financial planning.” See Washington Post Miss Manners – “My Greedy Brother is Waiting for Dad to Die.”

As long as the donor/grantor is alive, it is still his or her stuff and assets to do with as he or she pleases. No adult child has a “right,” to any of Mom or Dad’s assets. As long as Mom or Dad is ‘of sound mind and not under any undue influence,’ Mom and Dad can change their documents to whomever and in whatever amounts he or she wishes.

In this column, “brother dear,” seems to think that because he has made certain life, financial and personal decisions that Dad should give him more and that his sister doesn’t “need” as much because she has not made similar decisions. If Dad wants to do this, OK, if he doesn’t want to do this, that’s OK too. It’s Dad’s decision and it’s still Dad’s stuff.

Brother’s suggestion that his sister misuse her access to Dad to start tallying up Dad’s stuff and the values is also problematic. Firstly, a will “speaks only at death,” so Sister’s position as Executor is not valid yet. Again, Dad can change his mind and name someone else as Executor. Lastly, and not mentioned in the column, if Sister was Dad’s Power of Attorney, she can only act in DAD’s best interest, not her interest or her brother’s.

I wish I could say the above was unusual. It sounds like there is a fight brewing here, and in many other estate processes too. To that end, Dad may want to write a letter or ethical will to his children (outside of the legal will) explaining his intentions, rationale and beliefs regarding any asset disposition in his will (or trust).

Sister may want to seek legal counsel and do some “planning” on her own, but that is a separate blog post for another day.

1 – Sulkin, Anna – “Pre-Death Litigation Plagued the Estate of Sumner Redstone,” Wealth Management.com, August 19, 2020 (https://www.wealthmanagement.com/print/118504)