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How to avoid issues with your last will or estate plan

Deciding to take responsibility for planning your estate and putting together a last will is an important first step. However, a lot of planning and consideration need to go into your estate and last will in order to ensure your last wishes are properly carried out. Working with a professional who understands New York probate law is an important component of estate planning. So is doing your best to avoid confusion and inter-personal conflicts as a result of your last will.

Begin estate planning as soon as possible, ideally before your health or mental faculties begin to decline. You can always update and change a will after the fact, but putting it off too long could result in people questioning its validity. Being very specific about which assets or what amount of your estate should go to each heir is also important. Avoid vague language, and be as precise and complete in bequeathing your assets as is possible.

Talk to your heirs and family members

It can be surprising to learn what people expect from an estate. Some people, for example, believing that they are the favorite child, may expect parents to leave the majority of the estate to them instead of splitting it evenly among all the children of the family. Others may feel strongly that only children, and not grandchildren, should be included in a will. If one of your children provided for you during an illness or after a divorce, he or she may feel entitled to more than you intended to give.

Talking to your family members and heirs about your will is an important step to reducing friction after your death. Especially in cases where you are removing a person entirely from your will (disinheriting the person), advising him or her of that fact ahead of time can reduce the risk of that person contesting the will.

Consider a "no contest" clause

If you are worried that one or more of your heirs could try to contest your last will, you could have it drafted to include a no contest clause, also called In-Terrorem clauses. These clauses basically state that any of your heirs who try to fight the will or contest your estate plan in court will be removed from the will, effectively disinheriting that person. New York does allow for these clauses in last wills, although they must be carefully drafted to avoid vague or difficult-to-interpret language.

Informing your heirs of the inclusion of this clause can go a long way to preventing issues, as can discussing what your heirs can expect from your estate before you die. If heirs know they could lose everything, they'll be less likely to contest your will or drag your estate through probate court.

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