The loss of a loved one places an enormous toll on a family. While navigating this scenario is always challenging, there are circumstances that can make it even harder for surviving adult children to move forward after the loss of a parent. As you prepare your will and other estate planning documents, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk that your children will fight over your final wishes.
How to Structure Your Estate
All families are unique, and that also applies to their estate planning needs. While a simple will can suffice for some, there are other families who require more detailed estate planning services. One of the best ways to prevent strife among surviving siblings is to create an estate plan that is the best fit for your particular set of needs.
If you anticipate tension between your children, consider naming a neutral third party as the executor or trustee of your estate. This leaves all decisions in the hands of an individual who has nothing to gain and no role in existing tension between family members. It can be easier for surviving loved ones to accept decisions made by a neutral party than if those same choices were made by a sibling.
Communicate Early and Often
The best way to avoid fighting among surviving loved ones is to have periodic discussions about the basic provisions within your estate plan. None of the aspects of the plan should come as a shock to anyone involved when the time comes to put your planning into action. This includes providing a basic overview of what assets will be handed down, and to whom.
When conducting these discussions, try to keep them brief and to the point. Adult children should not be under the impression that they have any control over the decisions their parents make. The discussions are simply intended to inform everyone of the basics of how your estate plan is structured. Very often, sibling rivalries arise when one or more parties feel blindsided about the choices laid out in the estate plan.
Strive Toward Equity
Another way to reduce the risk of infighting is to make an effort to distribute assets fairly among surviving children. In some cases this is a simple matter. For other families, however, equity is much more challenging to attain.
For example, if one adult child relocates to provide daily care to an aging or ailing parent, it stands to reason that this child might be given a greater share of the estate. This is a decision that should be discussed among all adult children so that everyone is on the same page.
In cases where one child is intentionally being excluded from the distribution of assets, care must be taken to clearly outline that choice within the estate planning documents. It is also wise to have a series of frank and open discussions with any party that will be disinherited, allowing them to understand why the decision is being made and what to expect.
How to Handle the Little Things
You may be surprised to learn that many of the most intense sibling infighting occurs over small, seemingly insignificant items of property. Parents should never underestimate the sentimental value of belongings, and take steps to determine a fair means of distributing the little things when the time comes.
One approach is to begin distributing these items during your lifetime. Handing down family jewelry, artwork, or antiques can be meaningful to both parents and children. This also allows you to experience the enjoyment that your adult children have when they receive a treasured piece of property that will become part of their own family story. Be careful to remain within the federal limitations on gifting to avoid tax penalties.
A less sentimental yet very effective approach is to create a list of items that will go to each child when the time comes. You can invite your adult children to take turns “claiming” the items they most desire, which allows everyone to feel that they played a part in the eventual distribution of property. Some families even go so far as to place small labels or tags on furniture or other belongings to simplify distribution. A lottery system is also an option. This works by having children draw names and choose items on a random basis. This can be a good fit when more than one person has an interest in certain items of property.
Estate Planning is not a One-Time Task
It takes a significant input of time and effort to create your estate plan from scratch. Once those plans are in place, you’ll still need to periodically review them to ensure that the appropriate updates have been made. For example, if an individual who is listed within the estate predeceases you, the overall distribution of assets might change. The same applies to the birth of new family members or changes due to divorce or marriage.
Set aside some time each year for a brief review of your estate planning documents. If changes need to be made, the process is far less onerous than creating the initial planning documents. These annual reviews also help your children understand that your plans are in line with your current desires, which can reduce the change of conflict when the time comes to put those plans into action.
Siblings will need each other in the aftermath of the loss of a parent. You can help promote bonding and kindness among your surviving children by taking steps to prevent conflict and frustrations when he time comes to divide your estate. These tips are offered in the hopes of helping you create a plan that aligns with your intentions and also supports continuing family harmony. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to reach out to a highly skilled estate attorney for more guidance. Estate planning attorneys can help you determine the best way to structure your estate, and can also give customized tips on how to avoid family strife.