When your children were small, you no doubt suffered the challenge of keeping peace in the family. We see this same scenario play out time after time among adult siblings when a messy estate causes family rifts. Here are 10 tips to help prevent your children from fighting over your estate:
1. Talk to children about your estate plan. It may be a difficult discussion to have, but you need to have it. If you find it 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.
2. Write your children a letter. If you can’t face a face-to-face discussion, put it in writing with as much detail as you are comfortable providing to your children. You can frame the discussion in general terms and ask for their input.
3. Email your children your estate plan summary. Your estate planning attorney will usually provide you with a summary of your estate plan that doesn’t disclose actual dollar amounts. Ask your estate planning attorney to copy your children on an email with the summary and ask for their input.
4. For complex estates, consider a mediator. If you have a complicated estate that may include valuable collections or a family business, consider engaging 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.
5. Use equal treatment. If possible, leave your children an equal inheritance outright; most family fights result from children being treated unequally.
6. If you establish a trust for children, name each child as a co-trustee of their own trust at a certain age. Choose a reasonable age for when you feel a child will be able to participate in managing their own trust so they can learn about handling an inheritance with the help of the main trustee.
7. Consider staggered distributions from a trust. To help a child learn how to manage a substantial inheritance, estate planning experts often advise staggering distributions over a period of time (i.e., age 25, 30, etc.).
8. Provide children with option to remove or replace 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
The best way to ensure your estate plan doesn’t lead to a family feud is to meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones.