The Top 10 Ways to Incite Anarchy When You Die

When I talk to clients about their estate planning objectives, and make suggestions as to how things might go smoother, one reaction I sometimes get is: “I don’t really care that much. After all, I’ll be dead.” While I only hear that from a minority of clients, it never fails to make me smile. There’s something so practical about it.

So, taking that concept one step further, for those who really don’t care — and maybe even have a little devilishness in their hearts — I offer the following list:

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1. Loans to the Kids

Loan various sizable amounts of money to the kids.

Write down some of those debts in a prominent place indicating a clear intent that their share of the estate be offset by the debt they owe, but leave other debts unrecorded. This will put your children in the position of arguing about how much each of them borrowed, and what amount should be offset against each of their shares.


2. Oral Trust

Leave disproportionate amounts of your estate to certain individuals.

Let it be known to them and others that the purpose of the disproportionate gift is that they are expected to share some portion of what they receive with certain other individuals. Be vague, and don’t write any of it down.


3. Joint accounts

Arrange for substantial accounts to be owned jointly with certain children — but not all of them.

When you die, they will get the funds in those accounts. Where there is no expression otherwise, the law presumes that these assets were not intended to be shared or distributed in accordance with your will or trust, but rather retained by the joint owners as their separate property. This will put those children named as joint owners in the position of having to be fair or greedy. Ideally the children you name as joint owners on these accounts will be married to individuals who are particularly unlikable.


4. Hidden cash and coins

Make it known to all the children that you have substantial cash in a safe at the house, or hidden around the home.

Keep valuable coins or bullion in the house. Show it to the kids, and give them a good idea of how much is there. Make sure they (and their spouses) all have keys to the house and access to the safe. Before you die, without letting them know, spend a bunch of the money and sell some of the coins, so that when they go through the house it is clear that some substantial portion of what they expected to find is no longer there. Then, when they come to inventory the property in the home, they will naturally believe that one or more of them got there ahead of time and took some of these valuables.


5. Cottage trust

If you have a recreational property, set up a trust so that after you’re gone, the kids have to maintain it as a unit.

Require them to meet regularly to decide how to pay for the taxes and upkeep, and how to share use of the property among them. Leave only sketchy directions as to how this will be accomplished, but be clear that the trust cannot be terminated or altered, will continue for a long time, and that nobody can buy anybody else out.


6. Homemade will

Don’t hire a lawyer to bog down what you want done with all those legal words.

Go online and find a form. Then just write everything out the way you want it done. Masking tape on the backs of items with directions as to what you want to happen with them is a good idea too.


7. Deeds in a drawer

Deed your real estate so that it is divided in a way you think is fair.

Sign the deeds and have them witnessed and notarized, but don’t record them. Stick them in a drawer where you know they will be found after you’re dead, but don’t tell anyone about it ahead of time.


8. Supplemental Writings

Go to a lawyer and have them write everything up all professional-like.

Then, as the years pass, write and scribble on those documents. And, on other pieces of paper, write more things that come into your mind about how you want your estate divided. Sign some of the papers, date some of the papers, but not all of them. Make sure the documents contradict one another in more than one important respect. Then leave them all together in some place where they will certainly be found.


9. Abated gifts

Rather than dividing your estate in shares, be very specific about what items and properties go to which individuals.

Then sell some, but not all, of those things. Make sure your estate plan doesn’t include a contingency about how to handle property that is no longer around when you die.


10. Put a jerk in charge

If you are fortunate enough to have a child (or, better yet, a son-in-law or daughter-in-law) that is particularly difficult and can’t get along with any of your children, appoint that person as trustee of a trust that grants the trustee a significant amount of discretion as to the process of settling your estate. Give them the ability to drag it out, to decide how those personal items of sentimental value are divided, and to place values on other more substantial items, and direct that they pay themselves for whatever work they deem necessary to accomplish the estate settlement.


The humor in this article, if it can be called that, is that people do these things quite frequently without intending to incite anarchy. If knowing that your family will be tied up in knots over your estate when you die gives you some pleasure, then I hope this list is helpful. However, if you desire a more subdued resolution of your affairs, you might look at this list as suggestions for things to avoid.

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Douglas G. Chalgian

About the Author: Attorney Douglas G. Chalgian is both certified in elder law by the National Elder Law Foundation and a Fellow with the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. He is also the only attorney in Michigan who has served as Chair of both the Probate and Estate Planning and Elder Law and Disability Rights Sections of the State Bar.

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