Simple Estate Planning Steps to Avoid Family Disputes Over Your Last Wishes

The Sacramento Bee’s recent article “Family Argues Change of Will is a Fake” (July 12, 2014) about the death of local Greenhaven resident Joseph Herb O’Brien, and the probate fight in Sacramento Superior Court that ensued over whether Mr. O’Brien’s last will was a fake, highlights the need to add protective measures to your estate plan in order to avoid will contests and estate disputes between your family and loved ones after your death. Although Mr. O’Brien had previously drafted a personal trust, in the last hour before his death, Mr. O’Brien dictated a new will with the help of his friend Kenneth Rosenfeld, leaving the vast majority of his estate to their mutual friend Kenneth Pawlowski, a prominent Sacramento veterinarian. Rather than leave everything to his stepson, Glenn Slattery, per the terms of his trust, the new will left everything to Mr. Pawloski, except for $10,000 allotted to his stepson out of an estimated $611,000 estate. The will drafted mere minutes before Mr. O’ Brien’s death was hotly contested over the last three years and through two probate trials. Lawyers for Mr. Slattery argued the will was fraudulent based upon the fact that Mr. O’Brien lacked the mental capacity just before his death to amend his trust. On August 8, 2014, a judge finally invalidated the will drafted on Mr. O’Brien’s deathbed.

There are some simple steps you can take regarding your own estate plan to avoid a similar family dispute over your last wishes:

  1. First, depending on your health situation, think about having your personal physician evaluate your physical and mental health before drafting your estate plan, to avoid arguments about your mental capacity.
  2. Hire an estate planning attorney separate from your family members to ensure your interests, and the interests of the loved ones you wish to give gifts to, are protected.
  3. Talk with your attorney about hiring a neutral and independent corporate trustee to manage your affairs, rather than close family members.
  4. When drafting your estate plan, consider leaving your assets equally among your children and spouse. If your loved ones receive equal shares, it’s that much more difficult to argue you were playing favorites, or unknowingly being influenced by one child to the detriment of another.
  5. If you do want to disinherit a child, make sure your attorney clearly defines your desires in your estate plan.
  6. Finally, include a properly drafted No Contest Clause to your will and/or your trust. A No Contest Clause ensures that your heirs would lose their interest in your estate if they choose to contest your estate plan.

To read more about the final ruling in the O’Brien will contest please visit:

Contact Skye Ferrera today at [email protected] and schedule your free estate planning consultation.



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