Myth: “My Family Knows My Wishes. We Don’t Have To Talk About It.”

Karl figured if anybody would be totally in sync with his wishes, it would be the loved ones closest to him – his wife and children. Writing these wishes down in documented form was something he thought was a good idea, but if something happened in the interim, he was confident that everyone would know what to do.

Big mistake.

Karl never did get around to putting the proper estate planning documents in place, much less discussing then with his family. As a result, with nothing in place, his family was headed for potentially long court proceedings due to a host of questions such as: Who is in the family? Who are the heirs? Who is going to step forward and become a representative for the estate?” And that was only the beginning.

Why Does This Problem Keep Happening To Families?

It’s a common perception that there are shared values within a family and that a surviving family member will implement the values of the person who has passed away.

Yet we can hear and interpret things differently, as you may have experienced in your own family. Just because one person thinks that he or she has been clear doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody else fully understood what they were saying or intended. Add multiple family members with different interpretations and it isn’t long before there is potential for conflict.  Also, memories fade.  As time goes on, merely having talked about a topic at one point doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be remembered.

Saying “This Is What They Wanted” Is Often Not Enough.

There are also some legal problems with the idea that a surviving family member will implement a decedent’s wishes if not properly documented.  If one passes away intestate, or without a will, the provisions of the Probate Act will apply, regardless of other intentions. The best way to preserve those decisions is, again, to create the written estate plan.

What one had thought about the issue will not overcome the default provisions provided by law if he never took action to make a document to preserve those decisions. In many cases it involves a will; in others it may involve other estate planning documents. But the time to do that is before the need arises.

The Impact On Real Estate

Real estate can be a big question for an estate, particularly where the number of properties (or their respective value) does not match the number of heirs.  Who gets what? What if at least two of those kids want the same real estate? What happens then?  Is the property going to be kept in the family, or sold?  If it remains in the family, how will the ownership and maintenance be addressed?  Such issues should be resolved now.

The Impact On A Business

Imagine the type of questions when the owner of a family business passes away. What’s going to happen from here? In the case of a small business, there may be financial holdings, real estate, contracts, accounts receivable, intellectual property, inventory – and possibly liabilities as well. Without a plan, a statute could divide shares evenly among heirs, but that does not address the sale or continued operation of the business.  If not easily allocated and no plan is in place, there is the potential for disagreement, operational dysfunction, and even a diminution in value or wasting of the business.

Opening The Door To Probate

The purpose of probate is to administer the assets of the estate. If you fail to put an estate plan in place, what difficulties might be in store for your heirs in the way of the assets they should receive? No structure and no plan could lead to a prolonged probate process, as well as costs and potential disagreements that could have been avoided.   The clearest way to communicate your wishes is through a written estate plan that addresses the issues and leaves no question about it. They’re written down, fully documented, and properly executed.


Most people would agree that avoidable costs and potential arguments are not part of the legacy they want to leave.  It’s almost a given that without an estate plan, you’re going to have family members who disagree to the point of where the damage to the relationships could be irreparable. That’s not a legacy you want to leave behind. So talk with Windy City Legal about an estate plan that leaves no doubt as to what your intentions are for your family, your real estate, your business and any other important estate planning concerns.