No one wants their family to end up fighting in Surrogates Court over the estate plan that they created. Unfortunately, family disputes over property and money often occurs if your beneficiaries or family members who have been left out of the will or who receive nominal distributions are in the dark about the purposes behind your planning.
Your decision to exclude someone or to give someone else a specific inheritance of unique property might make sense to you. Creating a Letter of Intent and including it with your formal documents can prevent estate plan conflicts.
There are many different tools and documents used to accomplish estate planning goals. Most people are familiar with a power of attorney, a will or even a trust, but may not recognize another less formal document known as a Letter of Intent. The former are important documents because when properly drawn they provide instructions for the control or distribution of your stuff, and they bestow legal authority to someone that you know and trust to carry out your wishes. A Letter of Intent, however, can be helpful explain the reasoning behind your decisions to leave behind unequal inheritances. A Letter of Intent can help to reduce the possibility that a child or grandchild will commence probate or estate litigation because they believe that they have either received the wrong inheritance or have been unfairly excluded.
A Letter of Intent allows you to clarify specific reasoning for why certain people received specific things, or why one beneficiary received a relatively more valuable or larger asset. For example, perhaps one of your adult children has been living with you and providing in-house care or has made direct payments to an assisted living or nursing home facility on your behalf. That child may receive a bigger portion of the overall estate in order to compensate for their contributions to you during your life. Perhaps some of your adult children have higher levels of need than others – a Letter of Intent can help to explain the rationale behind your gifting decisions and therefore reduce the possibility that someone will commence a contest of your will or trust.
Contact a New York City estate planning law firm for further information.