INHERITANCE – GIFT OR ENTITLEMENT?

In a recent paper, the following letter appeared:

Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,

My in-laws have decided that the bulk of their estate will go to several different charities. My husband, their only son, thinks that's fine since we are doing okay financially. However, I feel that the in-laws should leave most of their estate to our two kids. I have suggested to my husband that he discuss this with his parents, but he refuses. What else can be done besides sue once they are gone? Also, as my in-laws age, they seem to be spending our inheritance on long vacations and fancy cruises.

Signed,

Snubbed

While this letter may appall many, if not hopefully most of you, it is an attitude that is becoming an ever more prevalent one in our society. So I ask, ….when did the attitude in our society change from inheritance being a gift to an entitlement…or did we really have shift? Was this always the sentiment and I just didn’t know it?

With access to Probate court and litigation becoming easier and the ability to litigate attitudes such as the one expressed above becoming ever more present, it is important that those in a position to leave a gift to the next generation discuss their wishes. This is an important factor in staving off needless and ill tempered litigation.

Each person with an estate plan in place can undertake steps to ensure that their loved ones don’t end up in litigation over their carefully thought out estate plan. These steps start off with simple conversation, acknowledging that this may be the hardest step. However, being in conversation with your loved ones, and communicating with members in your family about what you are going to do with the items that you have worked hard to generate is the first and most essential key in protecting your loved ones from litigation.

Another integral step in preventing litigation over your estate plan is to fully communicate with your estate planning attorney. This will allow your estate planning professional to ensure that he or she has a complete picture of your intent. This will allow your attorney to know what your motive was in making your specific gifts and will allow your attorney to give your voice additional credence when you are gone.

Information and communication is key to preventing the attitude of “What else can be done besides sue once they are gone?” Not only does this attitude destroy your voice, but it eats away at the wealth that you saved so hard to distribute upon your death.

Estate litigation leaves a legacy all its own. It pays the lawyers and tarnishes a family name. It does little to ensure that your wishes are carried out in the manner that you intended. So make sure that you have done the things that limit the likelihood that estate litigation is in your family’s future. Talk to your loved ones about what your wishes are, why you have made your decisions and what you have done to ensure that your wishes will be carried out. Then make sure that information has been communicated to your estate planning professional.

This web site is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.

Law Office of Cristi L. Michelon | 132 E. Figuero Street | Santa Barbara, CA 93101 | (805) 882-2226 / (805) 882-2227 (fax)