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Why Having an Estate Plan is Not Enough: The Top 3 Things You can do to Protect Yourself and Your Heirs

From Anna Nicole Smith to Archie Bunker, there have been dozens of high profile celebrity probate disputes in the past two decades. Many of these legal battles center around abuse, neglect, or poorly drafted legal instruments. Often, these cases also involve nontraditional family arrangements and late life marriages. When Anna Nicole, 26, married J. Howard Marshall, 89, public opinion was clear – she married him for the money. After all, Marshall had a net worth of about $1.6 billion. His death began a decade-long probate battle between his widow and his disinherited son. Millions were spent fighting over the estate in federal and state courts. In fact, the matter even proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court – Stern v. Marshall.

You may be thinking, “yes, but I have a will. That can’t happen to me.” Well, the truth is, most probate battles involve estates where there was a will or trust in place. In fact, more wills are challenged than estates that pass according to a state’s default rules. Here are three simple things you can do in addition to your estate plan to ensure your wishes are carried out.

No. 1 – Talk to your loved ones in advance

One of the worst things you can do is keep family and friends in the dark. If you have significant assets, your heirs know this. And even if they are wonderful people, there is no doubt they would be hurt and confused if, upon your death, they discovered they received nothing from your estate. If you choose to disinherit someone, make sure he or she knows. Explain your reasons, and make sure others know as well. You may also consider having your Florida elder law attorney draft a letter on your behalf, explaining this to your heirs. You should consider discussing your plans with anyone you are including in your estate plan and all the people who might naturally expect to receive something.

No. 2 – Do it before you are unable

One of the biggest problems your heirs can have when administering your estate is arguing whether you were competent or not. As you age, you may begin to lose memory, physical abilities, and appear less mentally competent. While most people never suffer from mental competence issues, as you age people make assumptions – whether justified or not. If you forget where your keys are, an unscrupulous person might attempt to argue that you lacked the competence or mental ability to write a will. Meet with an attorney while you are still sharp and there is no question about your mental ability. If possible, get a note from a healthcare provider you know well and who knows your medical history.

No. 3 – Put your will in a safe place

Most attorneys will not retain a copy of your will indefinitely. There are many reasons for this. However, you should put it somewhere safe, like a safe deposit box. Let someone you trust know where it is and make sure they will have access upon death. Many banks will allow you to make the box transferable on death. This way, upon death that person will be able to access the one true and original will.

Elder Law Services in The Villages

The Millhorn Elder Law Planning Group offers complex and skilled representation to seniors throughout central Florida. If you need help preparing your estate plan, call today to schedule an initial consultation at one of three offices throughout The Villages.

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