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News & Info

Has the Volume of Estate Litigation Increased?

Jan 25 2016

Written by Jason C. Henbest, Esq. and Brittany Saxton

The media today is plastered with images and news stories of disputes over a late celebrity’s estate.  There are innumerable counts of displeased beneficiaries vying for a larger inheritance, and then the dispute is brought to court. Can we accredit the media’s focus on these estate disputes as the sole reason for its apparent rise in litigation? Or are there other contributing factors to the rise in estate litigation? 

The answer cannot be pinpointed to a single factor.  In addition to a media focus on estate litigation, consider the increase in life span due to advances in medicine. Unfortunately, physical longevity does not directly correlate to a keen mind.  The aging population is prone to dementia and Alzheimer’s, which raises a capacity issue in altering an estate plan.  Dementia and Alzheimer’s may disqualify the principal of an estate plan to be of sound mind or memory, thus making it difficult to make or change important estate plans when time is of the essence. 

Further, the modern American family differs from the norm of 40, or even 20, years ago. Consider divorce or remarriage.  This can lead to division among blended families, and thus problems with coming to terms of the parents’ intentions in their Will.  It is also important to consider the role of online estate planning templates. Companies such as LegalZoom and Nolo provide fill-in-the-blank estate planning documents for their customers. While these are helpful, the umbrella language sometimes provides more problems that leads to results opposite from what the customer originally intended. 

To prevent your beneficiaries from going to court over a dispute in your estate plan, be proactive. Consider all available options. Most importantly, consider consulting a qualified attorney to provide you with thorough estate planning documents. The point is not just to avoid your estate ending up in court but to make sure your final wishes are honored.