ElderLaw News-The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. — MD, VA, DC
ElderLaw News
ElderLaw News is a weekly e-newsletter that brings you reports of legal developments and other trends of vital interest to seniors and their advocates. This newsletter is brought to you by The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., William S. Fralin, Esq., President., William S. Fralin, Esq., President.

High Profile Estate Disputes

High Profile Estate Disputes Offer Insight into Effective Planning

When someone becomes incapacitated or dies, it often can result in family fights and litigation. Unfortunately, when individuals suspect that there may be a fight upon their death they often put off the difficult conversation of estate planning until it is too late. Confronting difficult family situations head on in the planning process is the best method for creating an estate plan that comports to your intent and prevents family members from causing difficulty upon your disability or death. This article focuses on two prominent cases and discusses how a more careful plan may have eliminated or at least mitigated the dispute.

High profile examples of ongoing disputes related to the disability of an individual include the alleged incapacity of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and the disputes related to television mogul Sumner Redstone’s relationships with family members and paramours.

While there is ongoing litigation and many issues disputed in the Redstone matter, Mr. Redstone falls into an increasingly common category of individuals who can be described as elderly persons who are largely estranged from their family and seek companionship from other individuals. Often these new friends or caregivers and the elderly individual’s family members are left in a dispute regarding what is best for the elderly individual.

In the Benson matter, Mr. Benson attempted to change his estate plan to exclude certain family members, which prompted a lawsuit by those family members to declare Mr. Benson as incapacitated, which would undo the changes to the estate plan. The attempted change by Mr. Benson resulted in challenges to his competency to execute the documents, which put not only the validity of the documents in question, but also Mr. Benson’s ability to manage his own affairs.

While these two matters dealt with very high net worth individuals, the issues at hand arise frequently and are exacerbated by poor planning. Like Mr. Redstone, many older individuals find themselves in relationships that isolate them from family members and other friends. Estate planning documents such as powers of attorney can prevent isolation or can exacerbate it. An individual seeking to isolate an elderly individual may be provided authorization under a power of attorney if they have gained the trust of the elderly individual. Upon obtaining that authority close friends and family may be excluded from the elderly individual’s life by the authority vested via the power of attorney. A properly selected agent under a power of attorney should understand the relationships the elderly individual has and seek only to maintain the elderly person’s standard of living and access to friends and family. While finding such a person is not always easy, not having an agent may be preferred to having a problematic agent.

With regard to the Benson matter, the litigation was largely a byproduct of the amount at stake. Mr. Benson’s choice to amend his estate plan would either be contested during his life or at his death, because the disinherited heirs had too much to lose. Too avoid this dispute, the problematic heirs should not have been completely disinherited. Instead providing some meaningful amount of inheritance but making it dependent upon a “no-contest” provision could have dissuaded the problematic heirs from contesting the changes in the estate plan. “No Contest” provisions disinherit persons who contest the documents or the capacity of the decedent when the document was created. By providing some inheritance, the problematic heirs have something to lose if they try to increase their inheritance through contesting the provisions of the new document. The inheritance provided to the problematic heirs can be viewed as an “insurance policy” against contests.

The adverse consequences seen in the Redstone and Benson matters may be avoided by slight modifications in an estate plan. It is important to make clear to your estate planning or elder law attorney the complex relationships you may have with your family members, caregivers, and friends. Doing so ensures that proper agents are selected, and documents are drafted in a manner that will be prevent contests when they are needed.


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The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C.

The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. is an elder law firm. We represent older persons, disabled persons, their families, and their advocates. The practice of elder law includes estate planning, estate and trust administration, powers of attorney, advance medical directives, titling of assets and designations of beneficiaries, guardianships, conservatorships, and public entitlements such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and SSI, disability planning, income tax planning and preparation, care management, and fiduciary services. For more information about The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., please visit our website at http://www.chroniccareadvocacy.com.

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