The stress of disability, death, funerals, money, family heirlooms, and hurt feelings are the makings for many a family fight. It sometimes feels inevitable; however, you can prevent much family discord with good estate planning. Keep in mind that family fight prevention is important in all families; it’s even more important in blended families wherein there are built-in jealousies and natural competition. Here are 7 ways to avoid family fights with good estate planning.
- Talk it Over. Communicate with your loved ones; let your loved ones know that you’ve done estate planning and let them know your wishes. Explain who’s in charge, when and why. Show them where you keep your estate planning documents and other important papers and give them your estate planning attorney’s contact information.
- Put it All in Writing. Don’t rely on verbal communications; they have no legal authority and can be misremembered. Your estate plan, including the distribution of personal property and final arrangements must be in writing. Put your love in writing too by including love letters for each family member with your estate planning documents.
- Pre-Plan Your Funeral or Other Final Arrangements. Let your loved ones know your wishes regarding final arrangement; this avoids many squabbles that can end in life-long estrangement.
- Designate Beneficiaries of Family Heirlooms. Choose a special possession to be passed to each loved one and include a letter indicating why it’s special and why it’s being given to that particular beneficiary.
- Name Back-Up Trusted Helpers. Be sure to name contingent, as well as primary trusted helpers, in all of your estate planning documents, as appropriate. For example, name a back-up agent under your financial power of attorney in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve.
- Give Equal Inheritances. While none of us like to think so, money equals love. If you give more money to one beneficiary of a particular class (i.e. grandchildren, children, or siblings), it will be interpreted that you love that person more than the others and that you’re punishing those who received a smaller inheritance.
- Don’t Make Your Children Wait. If you’re in a blended family, don’t make your children from a previous marriage wait until your second (or third) spouse dies to provide an inheritance.
You can avoid family fights with good estate planning; consult with a qualified estate planning attorney to do so.
The Law Office of Michael Robinson, P.C. is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.