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Seven Tips to Avoid Estate Litigation

If you've taken the care to draft a will and otherwise plan your estate, you probably don't want to see it torn apart in litigation. However, the civil courts of the Commonwealth of Virginia see more than a few lawsuits every year over the execution of estates. While there is little that you can do about this after you're gone, there are certain precautions that you can take in planning your estate that can help your heirs avoid painful, costly, and time-consuming litigation in the future.

  1. Establish That You Have a Sound Mind – Even if no one would consider challenging your capacity to make decisions while your living, this could be a claim made against you and your will when its too late for you to prove your mental soundness. Annual examinations by physicians and even psychological evaluators can remove any doubt that might give rise to future litigation.
  2. No Contest Clauses – Your will can contain language indicating that if any beneficiary contests the will, it voids his or her claim. The catch to this is that you have to include that person in your will to create the leverage that's necessary to avoid a lawsuit.
  3. Corporate Executor Versus a Family Member – It's potentially unwise for you to single out a sibling and name him or her executor. You could be setting up your executor for accusations of abuse of power. Using a neutral third party like a bank or attorney can help avoid these skirmishes.
  4. Be Specific About Disinheritances – If you are excluding a child in your will, make that very clear in the will's language. The mere exclusion of the potential heir could give weight to allegations that you intentional act of disinheritance was merely an oversight.
  5. Use Individual Lawyers – Although it might be more convenient to have the same Virginia estate planning lawyer draft all of the wills in your family, this is a common source for allegations of misconduct.
  6. Loans to Beneficiaries Against the Estate – Some benefactors will advance money against an heir's inheritance with the idea that it will be deducted from their share of the estate when it's executed. Loans like this should be documented in writing to avoid confusion and legal claims during the estate's execution.
  7. Be Specific About Family Treasures – Not everything we own has a substantial monetary value. The allocation of family heirlooms and other items of sentimental worth should be spelled out, regardless of their value to others.

The rule is that the larger the estate and the more beneficiaries involved, the greater the chance that someone will try to litigate it in the Virginia courts. Taking these precautions can ensure that your estate plan is executed in the manner that you envisioned when you prepared it.

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