How Your Aunts’ and Uncles’ Lack of Estate Planning Can Impact Your Family
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
February 14, 2020
When we think about estate planning, those who are parents themselves often think about their children and plans for them. Those who don’t usually imagine their parents’ or grandparents’ giving them their worldly possessions.
But because our aunts and uncles typically have families of their own, we don’t generally give their estates a second thought… unless it’s a rich, estranged aunt or uncle shrouded in mystery and legend. (Outside of stories, that doesn’t happen very often.)
However, statistics show that more than half of Americans don’t have will, let alone a fully-developed estate plan. That means that even if you, your spouse, and your parents are all set, one of your relatives is most likely still flying by the seat of their pants. Like an aunt or uncle.
This can make settling their estate take a very long time. Moreover, it often results in a distribution of assets that your aunt or uncle wouldn’t have actually wanted. Also, your aunt’s and uncle’s planning or lack thereof can also unintentionally but adversely affect your family’s lives. For example, if your aunt or uncle makes a bequest to your special needs child, the bequest is received outright and could potentially disqualify him or her from receiving benefits. That is a very big problem that far outweighs the value of the gift. The moral of the story is to ensure you are all communicating to maximize the positive effects of estate planning.
Talking to them now can save you and your family unnecessary time and heartache later. Because here in Florida, if they pass away without some kind of directive, their estate must be distributed by the state itself. It will pass through probate and follow standardized, generic guidelines.
Having No Will Can Gridlock an Estate in Probate
A clear estate plan – or even a concise and current last will and testament – can significantly reduce the time it takes to settle an estate. If your aunts and uncles have strategically planned the transfer of their funds and assets through various trusts and other channels based on your family needs, they can all go directly to beneficiaries as planned.
If there is no clear direction, then there is no other option than for the estate to pass through probate. While every estate is unique, and the timeline for each case can vary widely, on average, an estate spends about two years in probate.
Why the Probate Process Takes So Long
On one hand, once an estate enters probate, opening special trusts that can help requires certain court interventions. All of these steps take time and energy, and this is assuming the probate court allows these changes at all.
On the other, when outstanding debtors surface, issues are contested, and disputes arise, that timeline can stretch to last years, and in some cases even decades before an estate is settled.
Guess Who’s Left in Charge
In either case, with large or complex estate holdings, improper planning could have catastrophic consequences. And regardless of the complexity, if an estate ultimately goes into probate, guess who is caught in the middle?
Having No Plan Means Florida’s Intestate Succession
The short answer to that question is, depending on which relatives survive your aunt or uncle, it could very well be you and your siblings left handling probate matters.
When assets pass through Florida probate, the state has an automatic order of inheritance known as intestate succession that looks like this:
- First, your aunt or uncle’s spouse
- Then any children they may have (your cousins)
- No children and no spouse, your grandparents get everything
- When your grandparents are gone, your parents are next in line
- If your parents aren’t willing or able to inherit, then you may be left holding the bag
Blended families can complicate things further, as that’s when we tend to see familial disputes arise. If you wind up shouldering the burden, though, you’ll simply be tied up a little longer.
Talking to Your Family About Estate Planning Shouldn’t Be Taboo
When your aunts’ and uncles’ lack of estate planning could lead to direct implications for you, you have a right to understand what might be expected. Talk to your family about their estate plans and ask questions about whether they need help making them.
Simple updates to a will or opening up trusts can eliminate time-consuming complications down the line. Get in touch with your Florida estate planning attorney to learn more about how to talk to them, or what role you can expect to play in your relatives’ estates.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose®
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