Over the next several decades, up to $30 trillion in assets will transfer from the baby boomer generation to their Gen X and Millennial children, and the baby boomers’ favored charities. Change of this magnitude, and of such immense wealth, will most assuredly precipitate many changes in the lives of those affected. These huge wealth transfers will also generate significant litigation, as the transfers occur, and thereafter.
Assessing the divorce rates of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, and declining marriage rates, demographics reveal many of those impacted by this great wealth transfer will include many families and children of first, second and third marriages. Family businesses created by baby boomers will be sold, revamped and/or otherwise disrupted by these ownership transfers. Farms, ranches and large tracts of family owned land may also be significantly impacted.
Wealth transfer planning will be affected by changing family dynamics, family business disputes, retirement, and/or re-establishing residency in a new state. These events will require changes to testamentary documents. As changes occur within families and family relationships over time, whether due to unexpected deaths, divorce, births, or otherwise, new wills may be prepared, and trusts may need to be amended.
Siblings and blended family members who have spent decades apart pursuing lives and careers in far flung locales, may find their family connections and the implementation of boomers’ planned wealth transfers are affected by these scattering dynamics. For those boomers whose natural heirs have predeceased them, a devise of estate assets to favored charities may prompt challenges by non-lineal and collateral heirs. These varied factors may arouse combustible and conflicting agendas among beneficiaries and estate contestants involving these asset transfers as the baby boomers pass on.
Estate litigation battles have varied causes: unhappy beneficiaries and/or dysfunctional families, poor estate planning, ambiguous and/or inadequate testamentary documents, disinherited children or heirs, and/or disputed charitable bequests. Will contests may arise from undue influence upon a testator by a second or third spouse, child or step child, caregiver, or unscrupulous advisor. Other claimants may assert a decedent lacked testamentary capacity at the time of execution of a will, or contest the testator’s exclusion of a child or other relative from a will in favor of other beneficiaries, particularly charities. Trust challenges are also varied, and may include claims of trustee misconduct, breach of fiduciary duties, misappropriation of trust assets, wrongful acquisition or conversion of trust assets, and disputes over the interpretation of ambiguous trust provisions, including whose assets may be subjected to what is perceived as unfair estate tax allocation.
More so than ordinary business disputes, estate litigation is often highly emotionally charged as a result of the family dynamics at play and contested amounts in controversy. While good planning is always strongly recommended as the best means to minimize disputes over wealth transfers, wrongdoing can, and not infrequently, does occur over a decedent’s assets. Navigating estate disputes requires highly specialized knowledge of complex probate and trust law, keen trial skills, and broad based experience in this area of litigation.
Our estate and tax attorneys can help clients prepare effective planning strategies designed to meet asset transfers goals which minimize potential post death wealth transfer disputes. When litigation is appropriate, or disputes do arise, our seasoned trial lawyers specializing in estate and trust litigation possess the knowledge and skill to successfully litigate these disputes to conclusion. Our estate administration attorneys facilitate efficient probate and trust administration so that assets are delivered to intended beneficiaries while meeting all legal requirements.
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