Wealthy families fight over estates for zillions of reasons.

Some family members may consciously or unconsciously link their self-worth to the perceived approval that an inheritance represents, or to the apparent disapproval that a disinheritance signals.

Other times, people who have just lost a loved one might face anxieties about their own mortality, which they could try to assuage by clinging to money and arguing over knickknacks.

In still other cases, family members with mental health and substance abuse issues—or those who are just plain jerks—can escalate ordinary grievances into major personal and legal battles.

Fortunately, private wealth advisors can anticipate these hostilities and the litigation they spawn by considering six common scenarios that lead to estate challenges and letting clients know about solutions well before the (mink) fur flies.

1. Inadequate Estate Planning
Although the uber-affluent can afford the crème de la crème of estate planners, after many of the rich and famous die, the popular press sizzles with news of easily avoidable planning mistakes.

Take the case of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark, which involved two wills signed when she was at an advanced age and some less-than-stellar legal and tax advice.

“Huguette’s estate is an excellent example of what can go wrong in planning. Everything went wrong in that situation,” says John Dadakis, chair of law firm Holland & Knight’s private wealth services group in New York. Dadakis represented Clark’s estate.

Clark was the daughter of former U.S. Sen. William A. Clark of Montana, who made a fortune in copper mining. She died in 2011, just shy of 104 years of age. Clark signed two wills when she was 98 that became the subject of a contentious probate case.

The first will left most of her $300 million estate to 21 distant relatives, many of whom she either didn’t know or hadn’t had contact with since the 1950s.

The second will, signed several weeks later, canceled the previous version, excluded the remote relations and substantially increased a bequest to Clark’s nurse. The new will left the rest of Clark’s estate to her goddaughter and to a foundation that Clark established.

Not surprisingly, the disinherited relatives challenged Clark’s second will, which they alleged she was manipulated into signing. After two years of litigation, the case settled just before trial with the relatives receiving $34.5 million. The nurse abandoned her claim to any further sums and agreed to return about $5 million of the $30 million in gifts that Clark had given her over the years. Clark’s goddaughter received a bequest, and the remainder of the estate went to arts organizations, including the foundation that Clark created.

The same attorney at “a small law firm” drafted both wills, according to Dadakis. “He did estate planning as a secondary interest. He was really a real estate lawyer.”

Clark’s estate planning was also hampered by a lack of coordination between her attorney and her accountant, says Dadakis. “Estate planning is really about teaming up with the right people. The two of them should have prepared gift tax returns for her. She made substantial gifts while she was alive.”

The estate’s administrator ended up filing claims against the small law firm, as Clark’s accountant had few personal assets to go after. The law firm had only $5 million in malpractice insurance to cover a $30 million penalty for failing to file the federal gift tax returns.

Multiple wills, as in Clark’s case, may be problematic, but it’s almost always worse to have no will at all. Fifty-two percent of the approximately 1,000 Americans age 18 and over that BMO Wealth Management recently surveyed did not have a will, according to the March 2017 report “Estate Planning For Complex Family Dynamics.”

Estates without direct, obvious heirs are the most frequently challenged, experts say. For example, Grammy Award-winning musician Prince Rogers Nelson was only 57 when he died in 2016 without a will. He left an estimated $300 million estate before taxes and expenses. Prince’s six siblings are, as of this writing, reportedly still arguing over how the assets should be distributed.

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