That’s a question Bryan Bishop eventually gets around to asking every prospective client who comes in for a will or estate plan. As the client is recovering from the shock, Bryan reassures them, “Every family has them.”
Think about your skeletons. What are they? The loving son who can’t manage money. The brilliant, strong aging parent you suspect has undiagnosed dementia. The kind daughter who can’t say no. The addicted grandson. A second wife you love, but whose son you consider immoral. An in-law you dislike or distrust. Mental illness, secret HIV, a hidden mistress for whom you’d like to provide. Maybe even an unacknowledged child of your own. The IRS lien on the family farm. The list goes on and on.
And heaven forbid you die without a will.
Why does your lawyer need to know all this stuff? The short answer is to prevent war from breaking out before your body is cold.
Think this doesn’t apply to you? Consider the parade of horribles: Shocked and disappointed would-be heirs race to court. They challenge the will (you weren’t in your right mind; the will or trust is a fraud; an earlier will is the real will; you were unduly influenced). They sue your chosen personal representative. They sue the trustees. They sue each other. And all the secrets come out. Five years later your estate remains undistributed and half of it has disappeared into the pockets of trial lawyers and accountants.
We are not making this up. We get called to mediate similar court cases all the time.
The deeper, more positive reason to disclose is so that your true wishes will be carried out. Trusts and other arrangements can be set up to protect the privacy you sought and provide for contingencies you feared. Your legacy will be experienced as love by those you loved in life. Your care for them during your life will continue after your death. And those you leave behind will continue to be “family” to each other rather than enemies.
Beyond Dispute Associates
© Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Santos Trevino Jr says
I truly am a believer in preparing a will and trust. My parents have a will and I have been considering talking to a will and trust lawyer about having one done for me. My family currently involves my father and me only. My mother passed away in 2008. The only thing holding me back is, of course, the cost. I am currently working on a contract basis and I practically live pay check to pay check. My employment situation MAY change soon for the better, but I still have many financial obligations that I will need to take care of first. Would you be able to recommend a low cost will and trust lawyer who would be willing to talk to me and give me some guidance? It would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Beverly Theil says
I don’t know where you live so I can’t recommend anyone. However, call your local bar association and ask who does this type of law locally. Not all attorneys do wills and trusts. Also, the cost may not be as bad as you think. In our area of Ohio these papers can be drawn up for $500 or less. Wills alone can be done for under $250.
Chris Hill says
Great article! Sadly more than 70% of Americans today die without leaving behind as much as a Last Will. As a financial advisor for the past 24 years, I have witnessed the devastating and family-wrecking mess that results from no estate planning, or failed estate planning. In my effort to help educate individuals and families on this topic, I have an article entitled “How to Trust a Trust Attorney”. For those who would like a copy, please send me an email at email@example.com. Thanks again for the great article! Chris
Bonallack and Bishop says
Definitely, if you’re drawing up a will you need to make sure that everything you can possibly think of is in there. If you don’t then there is a good chance that after your death, there could well be a will contest put in by one of the beneficiaries of your will.