LeClairRyan Attorney Offers 10 Tips To Avoid Losing An Inheritance

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Pressure, threats, bad-mouthing parents and other relatives can get you dropped from a will, warns Will Sleeth in recent blog post

Will Sleeth

A parent may be in decline, but that’s no reason to get a 'jump start' by removing items from the parent’s house. I have seen this enrage parents and lead to disinheritance

Estate disputes can lead to legal tussles that are time consuming, gut-wrenching and expensive, according to Will Sleeth, a partner in national law firm LeClairRyan's Williamsburg office who also leads the firm’s Estate and Trust Litigation team. The disputes are often sparked when an individual — who anticipated being named as a beneficiary in a will — discovers they’ve been left out. In an effort to head off these situations, Sleeth – who has handled more than 100 estate disputes – has compiled a “Top 10” list of behaviors to avoid.

“Knowing these factors will hopefully help ensure that you not only avoid being disinherited, but perhaps, more importantly, help ensure that you have deeper and more meaningful relationships with family and friends,” notes Sleeth in a recent two-part posting, Top 10 Ways To Be Disinherited (And How To Avoid That) that appears on the team’s Estate Conflicts blog.

Sleeth’s Top 10 behaviors to avoid are:

Neglecting to visit or to call a parent or relative. That’s “far and away the most significant factor that leads to disinheritance,” writes Sleeth. “It is also the most significant factor in the minds of many jurors and judges when they evaluate whether the person executing a will and/or trust truly meant to disinherit a person, or whether he did so as a product of undue influence.”

Pressuring a parent or relative by threatening not to visit unless they agree to do something. The target may give in at first, but that will likely embolden the threatening party to ask for more until the threatened individual “reaches a breaking point and reacts by disinheriting the threatener,” Sleeth notes.

Being judgmental about someone else’s money. Sleeth says children shouldn’t pass judgment about their parents’ spending habits – if they buy a new car, for example – unless the parent or relative has fallen under the undue influence of an unethical person, or if they have lost the mental capacity to make prudent decisions with their money.

Arguing with a relative about minor things. “Almost every argument about minor things arises as a result of someone speaking angrily in the heat of the moment,” notes Sleeth. “If the person paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and thoughtfully reflected for several seconds, he would realize the wisdom of holding his tongue.”

Cleaning out your parent’s house before they pass on. A parent may be in decline, but that’s no reason to get a “jump start” by removing items from the parent’s house, Sleeth advises. “I have seen this enrage parents and lead to disinheritance,” he says.

Rushing to file a guardianship and conservatorship action against a relative. There may be good reasons to do this, especially if a person has lost the capacity to make rational decisions about their healthcare, finances and other issues, he writes. But under Virginia law (and in many other states), a person may be “incapacitated” for purposes of needing a guardian and conservator, yet still have the testamentary capacity needed to make a will and boot you from it.

Obsessing about your parent’s estate plan. “Some discussion of an estate plan with family members is a good thing,” notes Sleeth. “But it’s not appropriate for children to ask about the specifics of a parent’s plan.”

Refusing to accept a relative’s later-in-life changes. Relations can get strained when a parent or other relative stops doing things that used to be an important part of your relationship, like going sailing each year, traveling to the beach each summer, or – even more significantly – dating or remarrying shortly after the death of a loved spouse. “It’s a good and proper thing for family and friends to voice concerns about life changes that negatively impact an elderly relative,” says Sleeth. “But it’s not a good thing to voice concerns when life changes occur that are either neutral (or in fact positive) for the elderly relative, yet may not suit the tastes of the family and friends.”

Getting angry at a relative just because they’re getting older. Sleeth once handled a matter where a daughter dutifully cared for her declining father for years, yet was left a smaller portion of the estate than siblings who merely visited him. The problem was that the daughter was “bitter and spiteful towards him for years, which led to his final years being filled with turmoil and angst,” Sleeth relates.

Sharing too much bad news about your kids. Honesty within a family is important, but it may be wise to withhold mention of some flaws and faults of children or other family members – like occasional substance use or repeated failed marriages – to elderly relatives. “Withholding this kind of information could keep an elderly relative from potentially disinheriting the wayward child who, out of all of the people in the family, may need the inheritance the most,” says Sleeth. He adds that this rule would not apply to extreme scenarios such as “chronic drug use, where an inheritance would almost certainly be misused to only feed a destructive habit.”

To read the full blog post, visit http://www.estateconflicts.com

About LeClairRyan
As a trusted advisor, LeClairRyan provides business counsel and client representation in corporate law and litigation. In this role, the firm applies its knowledge, insight and skill to help clients achieve their business objectives while managing and minimizing their legal risks, difficulties and expenses. With offices in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C., the firm has approximately 380 attorneys representing a wide variety of clients throughout the nation. For more information about LeClairRyan, visit http://www.leclairryan.com.
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