Writing a will is the first step in doing estate planning, and it’s something everyone needs to do when they want to specify how their assets will be divided. The will is a final chance to give instructions to heirs and make sure things go smoothly.
However, most people in the U.S. do not have a will. Every year, tens of thousands of people pass away without an estate plan. They have no say in where their assets go. The heirs, possibly along with the court, have to figure it out on their own.
Even though this is possible, it’s important to note that the lack of a will can often lead to disputes during the probate process. Siblings and other beneficiaries can spend an incredible amount of time fighting over what they think the right decision would be.
A question of unique items
Now, it’s easy enough to say that they should just divide things evenly. With a will, siblings should just sell assets — a home, a car, etc. — and then split the proceeds evenly. They can also divide financial assets, like money still held in a bank account. As long as it’s even, there shouldn’t be a dispute.
This is a healthy place to start, but what about unique assets? Say a parent has a beautiful painting made by a grandparent. There is no real financial value, but there’s a ton of sentimental value. All of the siblings want that painting, and none of them want to sell it and split up the money.
But how do they divide it? At the end of the day, they have to decide which person their parent would have wanted it to go to. If they don’t agree, an estate dispute can grow out of this disagreement, and it’s very complicated to solve it.
What steps do you need to take?
This is just one example of how estate disputes can begin. If you are involved in one, make sure you know exactly how to approach it. These are complex cases and can be highly emotional when family members are involved. Be ready.