I want my brother to inherit my estate. I’ve three other siblings. Do I need an attorney? What could go wrong? 

Dear Quentin,

I am in my 60s — a widow with no kids, but a big extended family. I own my own house and car. I have a couple of investment accounts, a savings account and a pension. I have listed one of my brothers as beneficiary for all of my assets.

What can I do to make it easier for my brother to settle my estate after I am gone? I have four siblings, and I know for a fact that there won’t be any issues or squabbles between them.

After reading all your Moneyist letters about this kind of thing, I am even more confused. Do I actually need a trust and estates attorney? What do you advise I do?

Elder Sister

Related: What happens to credit-card debt after you die? Will my mother’s IRA be used to pay off her personal loans? 

“Assume what can go wrong, will go wrong. It’s always better to hire a legal representative now than to wait for something to go wrong, and have to clean up a mess afterwards.”

MarketWatch illustration

Dear Elder Sister,

Assume what can go wrong, will go wrong.

It’s always better to hire a legal representative now than to wait for something to go wrong, and have to clean up a mess afterwards. It could cost you $1,000 or more, but it could buy you peace of mind, and save your family thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees, if there was a legal dispute. For example, lawyers sometimes recommend naming people who you do not wish to inherit from your estate, so it is clear that they were not forgotten and/or leaving them a small gift for the same reason.

I appreciate your optimism that leaving your house, retirement accounts, savings and other assets to one sibling will not result in a debacle after you’re gone — that is, assuming you predecease your siblings. You know your family better than I do, but money can change the dynamic in a relationship. Inheritances can reignite old family rivalries, or even create new ones. If you have a large estate or even a small one, there is no reason to skimp on an attorney. 

The best way to ensure your will is not challenged is to make it properly. I recently spoke to a trust and estates attorney who told me she had a client with a multimillion-dollar fortune. Her client had done everything by the book and, to be extra careful, kept his will in the same envelope in which it had been sent to him. He had planned to put the will in a safe-deposit box, but forgot to do one thing: sign it.

Too many things can go wrong. It’s not worth writing a will on the cheap, if you can afford not to, or downloading a template from the internet. And don’t forget to make provisions for what happens while you are still alive. Arguably, this is even more important. Designate someone in your life to have power of attorney to make financial decisions should you become incapacitated, and do the same with medical power of attorney so the person can make healthcare decisions you’ve determined ahead of time.  

There are many reasons to challenge a will, but the onus is on the third party to prove malfeasance, or simply to point out a glaring error that renders the will invalid. A person making a will or signing a power of attorney, for instance, must have “testamentary capacity” — and they must not be under or subject to duress, restraint, fraud or undue influence. It’s best not to give anyone the glimmer of a reason to mount a challenge.

When so much can go wrong, leave nothing to chance.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

Is it OK for my new boyfriend to ask me to split the bill? ‘I don’t want him to get used to me paying for my own meals.’

My stepdaughter is executor to her late father’s will, and believes she’s now on the deed to my home. Is that possible?

I inherited $246,000 from my late mother and used $142,000 to pay off our mortgage. If we divorce, can I claim this money?

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

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