Reality show poses interesting estate planning questions

On behalf of Scaringi Law posted in Estate Planning on Friday, January 30, 2015.

There's a new reality television program on the block. Recently debuted by Fox, the program, called "Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby," profiles real-life bequests. According to a recent article, the show is drawing record numbers of viewers for the network.

Granted, the premise of the show is to profile unusual inheritances. However, there may be some helpful lessons even for ordinary estate planners. For example, a bequest of a 900-acre bug farm reminds us that issues might arise when an individual wants to leave a business to his or her heirs. Another episode was about a man who left his farm estate to two television actors who were strangers to him. That inheritance alerts us to the possibility of a will or trust being challenged by one's heirs.

The show might raise two concerns. First, can careful estate planning help to minimize inheritance disputes? Is there also a way for an individual to leave a bequest with conditions that impart his or her values to heirs? An attorney that focuses on wills and trusts knows the answer to both questions to be yes.

First, open communication can go a long way towards managing heirs' expectations. If children or other beneficiaries have a realistic sense of the assets or property they might be inheriting, they might be spared the disappointment or other hurt feelings that often motivate an inheritance dispute.

In terms of managing how heirs spend their inheritance or run the family business, it may be advisable to put assets into a trust. That way, control over the assets will be in the hands of the trustee. With careful planning, an individual can select a trustee that will interact with beneficiaries as a neutral third party.


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