For most of us, keeping peace in our family is a priority. The truth is that sometimes after there is a death in the family, family members who have always gotten along find reasons to fight with each other about the estate proving the old adage: “money makes people do funny things.” So how can you do your best to make sure that your children don’t fight over your estate?
- Talk to your children about your estate plan. Gather your family in a comfortable setting to talk openly and honestly about your decisions; letting everyone comment with their questions and concerns. It may be a difficult discussion to have, but you need to have it. Tell everyone who the executor is and make sure that person understands the roles and responsibilities. If you find this too difficult, enlist the help of your estate planning attorney to go over the details of your estate plan with your children and answer their questions.
- Write your children a letter. If you can’t have this discussion face-to-face with your children, the next best step is to put it in writing with as much detail as you are comfortable providing. You can keep the content more general and ask for their input.
- Email your children your estate plan summary. Another option to communicate to your children is to ask your estate planning attorney to provide a summary of your estate plan in an email that doesn’t disclose actual dollar amounts. Your estate planning attorney can send it to you and your children, and mention in the email that you’d like any input your children have.
- Consider a mediator for complex estates. If you have a complicated estate that may include valuable collections or a family business, consider using the services of a professional mediator who can meet with you and your children separately to identify any potential issues and then meet with you together to iron out those issues. This is a great way to try to ensure that your estate plan will be something everyone is comfortable with.
- Use equal treatment. Most family fights occur because children aren’t treated equally in the estate plan. If possible, leave your children an equal inheritance.
- If you establish a trust for children, name each child as a co-trustee of their own trust at a certain age. Choose an age that you feel your child will be able to participate in managing their own trust so they can learn about handling the inheritance with the help of the main trustee.
- Consider staggered distributions from a trust. To help a child learn how to manage a substantial inheritance, you can stagger distributions over a period of time (i.e., age 25, 30, etc.).
- Provide children with an option to remove or replace the main trustee. Similar to arranged marriages, you never know if children and trustees will make a go of the relationship. Give children limited power to remove and replace a trustee with another qualified trustee.
- Allow children to name their own co-trustee. If your children are competent adults, give them the power to name the independent co-trustee of their trust.
- Include mediation instructions in your estate plan. Your estate planning attorney can add mediation language so that if a dispute arises, your children will not be tied up in emotionally and financially draining litigation.
If you feel that the above tips still won’t ensure family harmony, you can put a no-contest clause in your estate plan that says that if a person contests your will (or trust) they forfeit any rights they may have under it if their challenge is unsuccessful.
The best way to ensure your estate plan doesn’t lead to a family feud is to meet with us so we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617.299.6976.