At my firm, we often harp on the idea that everyone needs a plan. We quote people like Benjamin Franklin, who taught, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” The thing is, though, having a plan isn’t enough. You need a good plan. You need a clear plan. You need a thorough plan that considers multiple contingencies. You need a plan written to ensure that your wishes are carried out and that your intended beneficiaries are protected.

Princess Diana had a plan. When she died, she left a will that put her mother and sister in charge of her estate. Diana also left a letter that was very specific about certain valuable personal property that she wanted her nieces, nephews, and godchildren to have. But the letter and the will were inconsistent. Diana’s executors chose to ignore the letter, which led to a legal dispute. The court agreed with the executors’ decision, so Princess Diana’s extended family received almost nothing from her estate.

Leaving unclear or inconsistent instructions can be nearly as bad as leaving no instructions at all. Diana left written wishes, but she wasn’t clear, and her family ended up fighting it out in court. If you think this is a problem that ensnares only celebrities and those with large estates, you’re wrong.

My firm handled the case of a man who left behind two daughters and a longtime girlfriend. He left only a will, so the estate was forced into probate court. To make matters worse, he named the three women in his life as equal beneficiaries of his estate but appointed one of them as executor. To say these individuals didn’t get along is an understatement.

The will contained a couple of specific distributions to other family members. For instance, the son of the executor was to receive all “hand tools.” The executor interpreted this distribution very broadly to benefit her son; the other beneficiaries strongly objected. Because this man failed to recognize the problems that would be caused by his family’s dynamics, a month-long disagreement over the intended definition of “hand tools” ensued, ending with an expensive hearing in court and emotional wounds that may never heal.

This man needed a clearer plan, one written with a better understanding of how family dynamics would play a role in the administration of his estate, and one designed to keep the family out of probate court. The same goes for the rest of us. That’s where my firm can help. Our clients don’t fail to plan, and they don’t have plans that fail them. Call for a no-charge strategy session, or pick up a copy of my book at