Attorney Garrett T. Smith

By Attorney Garrett T. Smith

Last month, I hosted two educational estate planning webinars and was pleased with the interest and response. The presentations were focused on the probate avoidance planning, but many of the follow-up one-on-one consultations focused on conflict avoidance. I will be hosting another two webinars this month, and the details of when they are scheduled and how to sign up are included at the end of this article. In the webinars, I will still provide information on trusts, wills, powers of attorney, and healthcare documents for probate avoidance, but I will also go beyond the legal documents and get into how to manage potential conflicts among your heirs.

Probate avoidance planning centers around incapacity and death. Powers of attorney and healthcare documents are used for incapacity planning because these documents allow you to appoint agents to act in your financial and medical behalf upon your incapacity. These documents are designed to keep you out of living probate where you petition a court to appoint a conservator or guardian for the incapacitated person. Trusts and pour over wills are used for planning around death because a properly funded trust combined with a pour over will acts as a loophole in the probate law. Comprehensive estate planning includes all of these documents.

Conflict avoidance planning goes beyond the documents in an attempt to manage people and personalities. I always say death and money do weird things to people. I have heard countless stories from my clients about how a sibling behaved in an unexpected way after their parents passed away and caused a lot of conflict. I had a client, years ago, who told me she hadn’t spoken with her brother in over 15 years because of how he divided the estate assets. I am currently working with a client who has battled her siblings for over a year to follow the wishes of her parents according to their probate avoidance documents. Counseling together about who to appoint to certain fiduciary capacities and crafting custom, specific language to guide distributions takes probate avoidance planning to the next level of conflict avoidance planning.

Most estate planning attorneys do a great job with the probate avoidance documents; I add increased value by creating customized plans that include provisions and fiduciary appointments that minimize and manage the potential conflicts before they occur. These types of details need to be worked out while you are living and have the ability to communicate with your heirs and fiduciaries. Once you have passed on, any ambiguity in the probate avoidance documents could, and often does, lead to conflict among your heirs. I am hosting another round of educational estate planning webinars on March 4th at 6:00 p.m. and March 9th at 1:00 p.m. You can register for either webinar at

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