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Keeping it private: dealing with high-asset family estate squabbles

Most people value their privacy, and that is certainly true for members of well-heeled families who understandably don’t want the details of their assets closely chronicled in media tabloids.

There are of course many sound and tailored strategies that a proven estate administration attorney well versed in working with wealthy families can do to promote privacy and sound outcomes in the asset-planning realm. It goes without saying, though, that the base effectiveness of an estate plan is closely linked with the input that legal counsel receives from family members on key matters.

Put bluntly: A plan will do little – if anything – to promote fundamental family goals if the individuals most affected by it aren’t intimately involved in its creation and contours. A recent New York Times article on estate litigation embroiling wealthy families duly notes that, “Family members must be willing to put in time and effort” in brainstorming a plan’s details.

The Times rightly adds that getting participants both figuratively and literally on board concerning proactive and conflict-minimizing strategies can sometimes be “unpleasant and difficult.” Not all communications are amicable and free-flowing, especially where discussion centers on the outsized and varied sources of wealth that are common in truly affluent families.

Step one, stresses the Times piece, “is to talk through the plan.” Even if that seems akin to pulling teeth, the candor and expressed feelings realized in a timely family communique can be priceless for the benefits they can confer later. Reams of empirical data indicate that estate squabbles often erupt simply because family members never talked openly about estate matters and are thus wholly unprepared to deal with realities when they surface.

Experienced estate planning attorneys intimately know the value of timely family interaction and its central role in determining how estate matters will eventually play out. A family’s early communication with proven legal counsel can help ensure that planning goals and outcomes are optimally promoted rather than undermined through a lack of communication.

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