Should You Contest a Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The cases that generate headlines are just the high-profile ones, and they don’t include the hundreds, if not thousands, of inheritance claims being brought every year that never make it to the courtroom, says FT Advisor in the article “When and how clients can contest a will?” What we don’t read about are the family fights, the settlements and the eventual distribution of a loved one’s estate.

What’s behind this uptick in inheritance disputes?

One answer has to do with the increased complexity of families. Having a second, or even a third, family is no longer as unusual as it once was. The division of assets when there are children and stepchildren create more chances for someone to feel wronged. A second reason is that the value of individual property overall has increased. Relatively modest estates with a home that’s now worth half a million dollars, means there’s more to fight over.

Add to that a generally more litigious society, and you have an increase in estate battles.

There are two general areas of estate battles: one concerns wanting a greater portion of an estate, and the second centers on whether the will is valid. The second can bring allegations of undue influence, lack of capacity to create a will and even forgery.

Challenging the validity of a will is difficult, since the person who made the will has passed and they can’t speak for themselves. However, there are certain presumptions in favor of upholding a will that helps the courts. For one thing, the will must be in writing and there must be two people witnessing the signing.

Taking the position that the person was incapacitated and not legally able to create a will is another way that wills are challenged. The older the person is when the will was created, the more likely this is. One way to address this in advance, is to have a medical opinion documenting the person’s mental capacity.

While it is impossible to make any will completely immune to any challenges, there are a few things that can be done to make it less likely that the will is contested.

Write a letter or have a video made that speaks to the family, explaining what your wishes are for your property and for the family. This is not legally binding but could be used to show that you were thinking clearly when you had your estate plan done.

Communicate openly and with great transparency to all members of the family, so there are no surprises. If everyone knows what you have in mind and an opportunity to voice their opinions, there may be less potential for fighting.

Finally, be sure to work with an estate planning attorney who will know the laws of your state, so there are no legal errors that would lead to the will being deemed invalid by the courts.

Reference: FT Adviser (July 3, 2019) “When and how clients can contest a will?”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Inheritance, Meet Technology: Estate Claims May Be Challenged – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Between off-the-shelf DNA testing kits and online genealogical searches, family members who may have never known of each other’s existence are coming to light more often than ever before. So is the news that one’s parent may not be a biological parent, according to the article “Discovering long-lost family: Inheritance laws cover surprise relatives, but changes possible,” from The Indiana Lawyer.

This is yet another reason that wills and estate plans must be carefully drafted by an estate planning attorney. Language in the will must make it very clear that assets are only to be distributed to the known children of the married couple, unless that is not the person’s wish.

An inheritance may be left for a child who was given up through adoption or, if a previously unknown child shows up at the doorstep, the family may wish to bequeath a share of their estate to that child. There may be no legal claim, but the family may feel a moral obligation, which is entirely up to them.

Since technology is streamlining the search for lost relatives into a few keyboard clicks, the drafting of wills has become more complex. It’s not just filling out names on a form, because the will has to be drafted to prevent any unforeseen problems that may result when new relatives appear.

The search for unknown relatives usually comes from positive motives. Family members usually want to connect with long-lost cousins, aunts, uncles and siblings, out of a desire for connection and not financial gain. However, a properly prepared will should be drafted, according to the testator’s wishes.

Families are changing, with more openness, and estate plans are being adjusted accordingly.

One couple wrote a will to leave an inheritance to a grandson, even though he had been adopted by another man. Their son had died after fathering the child without marrying the child’s mother. The mother married, and her husband adopted the grandchild, but the grandparents had maintained a relationship with the family and left their son’s heir a portion of their estate.

People are more aware that family members may arrive unexpectedly. Occasionally, spouses want language in the will restricting assets only to the children who are the product of their marriage. That can spur some uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations.

When you sit down with an estate planning lawyer to discuss your will and distribution of assets, you’ll need to be honest and discuss any possible heirs who might appear that were previously unknown to the family. The more details and information you can provide to the attorney, the better prepared your will can be to withstand a challenge from a ‘new relative.’ If the wish is to take care of a previously unknown family member, that can be accomplished also.

Reference: The Indiana Lawyer (May 29, 2019) “Discovering long-lost family: Inheritance laws cover surprise relatives, but changes possible”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys 

Will Contests May Be Rare, but They Do Happen – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In an ideal world, wills and estate plans are created when people are of sound mind and body, just as the familiar legal phrase describes. The best way to avoid a will contest is to have a well-written will, prepared by a qualified estate planning attorney who can help avoid legal contest. However, there are times when this is not the case, says The Huntsville Item in the article Legal Corner: Will contests while rare are messy.”

A will is contested, when the person challenging the will believes that it does not represent the true intent of the testator to pass the estate to the people he wanted.

A will must be written in the correct form and executed according to the law in order to be valid. This is why it is necessary to work with an estate planning attorney to create a will. A person may try to do it on their own, typing it out, downloading a form or copying a form, but because the law is very strict about the form and execution, many of these do-it-yourself wills end up being deemed invalid by the courts.

When the will is not valid, the laws of intestacy are applied to the person’s estate. This is rarely in accordance with the person’s wishes, but at this point, it’s too late.

To make a will, the person must have “testamentary capacity.” That means that he or she knows what they are doing, what their estate includes and who the recipients of the estate will be. They also must not have been subject to undue influence. That means that the person making the will is so controlled and dominated by another person, that they were not able to make the will that they wanted.

When the sad day comes that a loved one passes, the family grieves. Each member will deal with the loss in their own way. For some people, the intense level of emotions can bring about conflicts. Sometimes these are the result of old battles that were never resolved. Sibling rivalry that’s been simmering for decades can emerge.

One of the goals of a properly prepared will, is to prevent any family fights after a loved one has passed.

Studies have found that the struggle over mom’s necklace or dad’s watch are not about the material items themselves, but over the symbolic meaning of those items. When families fight over inheritances, it’s rarely because of the actual item or even the money.

As the family’s older member, you want to do anything you can to avoid fracturing the family after you’ve gone.

Unless you take the steps to create a will and a strong estate plan, your loved ones could be entrenched in a long inheritance conflict that lasts years and consumes more resources than anyone can spare.  However, with careful planning, you can avoid inheritance conflicts. After all, estate planning is more for those you love than for you.

Rely on the skill and knowledge of an experienced estate planning attorney and leave your family intact.

Reference: The Huntsville Item (May 26, 2019) “Legal Corner: Will contests while rare are messy”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys 

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jane Frankel Sims

410-828-7775

Contact: Frank Campbell

410-263-1667

Sims & Campbell Estates and Trusts

Frankel Sims Law and Holden & Campbell
Merge to Form Sims & Campbell

Firm will offer comprehensive Trusts & Estates services through offices in Towson and Annapolis

TOWSON, Md. (April 26,2019)  Frankel Sims Law and Holden & Campbell have jointly announced the merger of their firms to create a boutique Trusts & Estates law firm providing comprehensive services in the fields of Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Trust Administration and Charitable Giving. The combined firm will be named Sims & Campbell and have offices in Towson, Md. and Annapolis, Md.  Jane Frankel Sims and Frank Campbell will lead and hold equal ownership stakes in the firm.

Sims & Campbell will have 9 attorneys and 15 legal professionals that handle every facet of estate and wealth transfer planning, including wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, estate and gift tax advice, and charitable giving strategies.  The firm will focus solely on Trusts & Estates but will serve a wide range of clients, from young families with modest resources to ultra-high net worth individuals.  This allows clients to remain with the firm as their level of wealth and the complexity of related estate and tax implications change over time. 

“By joining forces, we have expanded our footprint to conveniently serve clients in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia” said Jane Frankel Sims.  We are seeing some of the greatest wealth transfer in our country’s history, and we want to continue to be on the leading edge of helping our clients maintain and enhance their family’s wealth.  In addition, we aim to serve our clients for years to come, and the new firm structure will allow Sims & Campbell to thrive even after Frank and I have retired.”    

“Jane and I have always admired each other’s firms and recognized the need to provide even greater depth and breadth of focused expertise to help families amass and protect their wealth from generation to generation,” said Frank Campbell.  “Now we have even greater capabilities to make a real difference for our clients.” 

The Sims & Campbell Towson office is located at 500 York Road, on the corner of York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of Towson.  The Annapolis office is currently located at 716 Melvin Avenue, and is moving to 181 Truman Parkway in August, 2019.  For more information, visit www.simscampbell.law.