If you have a widowed or divorced parent who’s been postponing estate planning (even creating a simple will), you may feel like you have to literally take them by the hand to get them started. They may not have much to leave behind. You’d just like them to get their affairs in order and make their wishes known while they’re still healthy mentally and physically.
That’s an admirable goal. However, if you have siblings or other family members who expect an inheritance, you don’t want to get so involved that you could reasonably be accused of undue influence in a will contest. That should be a particular concern if your parent intends to leave you more than your siblings.
They might have a perfectly good reason for imbalanced inheritances. Maybe you’ve been the one helping them in recent years because your siblings live far away. Maybe your parent has helped your siblings out more financially because they needed the assistance.
So, what can you do to avoid family rancor and accusations of undue influence? There are a few things.
Communicate with your siblings or other close family members
Let them know that you’re facilitating your parent’s estate planning. This way, it won’t seem like you’re going behind their back. Let them know you’ll stay out of the decision-making process, but you will provide some logistical help like scheduling or driving them to appointments if they aren’t comfortable doing that.
You should not (and likely won’t be allowed to) join the estate planning meetings. It’s crucial for their legal and other advisors to see that their client is competent to make decisions on their own. It’s best if they choose their own professionals and pay them. That way, there’s no confusion about who was in charge.
Encourage your parent to talk to their beneficiaries when they’re finished
It’s always best when parents give their adult children some idea of what to expect from their estate plan. Are they leaving them hundreds of thousands of dollars or giving everything they own to the local animal rescue group where they volunteer? That gives them a chance to explain their thinking and makes heirs less suspicious if they don’t get what they expected.
With experienced legal guidance, your parent or other loved one can create an estate plan that reflects their wishes and reduces the chances of family drama later.