As an estate planning attorney, I hear about some of the craziest, outrageous estate planning matters gone awry. But those types of cases are outliers, and although they’re interesting, they’re uncommon. It’s the typical case gone wrong that really causes problems for more families.

For instance, in one relatively straightforward estate planning matter, I have a colleague who is currently representing a sister who is being sued by her sibling (brother) over some real estate their parents left them. When their parents died, they left their two children the house as equal owners – 50/50. The parents insisted that the children never had conflicts, and that the family was close. They couldn’t imagine how this simple matter could be anything but straightforward.

However, the client’s brother unfortunately got laid off in the recession, after having a secure job at a pharmaceutical company for many years. As a result, he could no longer afford his share of the expenses of the house. and needs to sell the real estate. The client doesn't want to sell as she feels they would take a big loss, as the housing market still has not turned around in many parts of the country. She would rather wait until the real estate market has recovered. Oh, and by the way, the parents named the two children as Co-Executors, something we always caution clients against doing.

Since they cannot come to an agreement, the brother sued the client to compel the property to be sold. The parents are probably rolling over in their graves, as the two siblings duke it out in court. Guess who wins? Attorneys, who spend plenty of time on cases like these and rack up many billable hours. It may take years for this family to recover from hard feelings and the conflict. Sadly, none of it needed to happen.

If you are leaving any property to your family after you are gone, talk to your estate planning attorney about establishing provisions in your will or trust to ensure that this never happens. Some ideas including setting money aside to handle the expenses (for many people, life insurance is an excellent option in a case like this). As I always say, none of us have a crystal ball, and you simply don’t know what will happen after you’re gone. Your estate plan needs to be crafted in such a way that takes into account multiple scenarios, and most importantly, the worst case scenario so that such a scenario can be avoided.

50/50 doesn’t seem so great after all. If your plan needs a fresh look, or if you know of someone who can use some assistance with estate planning, please call our office today at (215) 706-0200.