How You Can Prevent Your Children From Fighting Over Your Estate After You Die
Losing a loved one is a traumatic event regardless of the age of the person or the circumstances surrounding his or her death. It is an emotional time for the person’s family and friends as they cope with the loss. Once the funeral has ended and the family has had time to grieve, someone must begin the process of finalizing their loved one’s financial affairs.
While you hope that your family will not bicker and fight over your estate, it does happen. It is heartbreaking when a family is torn apart because some members of the family are fighting over the administration of a loved one’s estate. You may not be able to prevent what happens after your death; however, you can take steps to reduce the chance your family will fight over your estate.
The Best Way To Prevent Fights Over Your Estate
You assume your family will abide by your wishes for your estate and they will behave like rational, mature adults. Unfortunately, losing a loved one is very emotional and those emotions can trigger fights among family members. While most disputes are minor and do not end up in court, you want to reduce arguments about how you chose to distribute your estate.
The single best way to prevent your family from fighting over your estate is to create an estate plan. Having a detailed will that specifies how you want your property to be divided removes any doubts about your wishes and desires. Without a will, your family can only assume what you wanted to happen to your property after your death. This can be the source of tension and arguments as family members “lay claim” to the items they want from your estate.
You should always have a current, valid will, in addition to other estate planning documents, to avoid conflicts after your death. Depending on your goals, an estate planning attorney can advise you of any additional documents you should have other than your will to reduce the chance of your family fighting over your estate.
You should update your will periodically to ensure that it reflects your current wishes, especially after certain life events such as a divorce, marriage, birth of a child, or the death of a family member. By reviewing and updating your will, you are making it clear to family members that what your current will states reflects your decisions about how your property is to be distributed upon your death and you do not want any fighting over your estate. It refutes the argument that you did not take an active role in planning for the administration of your estate. Furthermore, by meeting with your estate attorney in private, you can avoid the argument that some family members had an undue influence in how your will was written.
Other Tips For Avoid Family Fights Over Estates
In addition to having a current will and other estate planning documents, there are other steps you can take to reduce the chances of your family fighting over your property.
- Draft a list of special bequeaths – If you know that some of your property has sentimental value to certain people, consider including a list of special bequeaths in your will. You can do this within the will itself or you can reference an attachment to your will; however, attachments can be lost and challenged as invalid. By specifically directing that certain items be distributed to a specific person, it eliminates arguments such as “Grandpa knew I loved that clock and he would have wanted me to have.”
- Choose your personal representative or executor carefully – Your first choice for the person to administer your estate may not be the wisest choice. Most parents automatically choose their oldest child as their executor; however, if your oldest child tends to argue with his or her siblings over minor issues or your oldest child is not organized and dependable, it is probably not a wise decision to name this child as your executor. Remember, you are not required to choose a relative as your executor. Base your choice on the person’s abilities and character rather than birth order or tradition.
- Avoid jointly owned property – Adding a person’s name to a financial account can create problems for your estate. In most cases, adding someone to an account makes that person a co-owner even though you did not intend for that person to inherit the account upon your death. This can create a situation in which one person receives a larger inheritance than you intended because he or she legally inherits the account upon your death and he or she refuses to “share” with the other heirs. If you must add a child or other person to a financial account, make sure they are listed as an “authorized user” or “authorized signer” rather than a co-owner.
- Be open and honest – Avoid surprises when planning your estate. Make your wishes and desires known to your family while you are living to avoid family conflicts when you are gone. It is better to answer questions about your decisions now while you can explain your reasons for those decisions. Your family does not need to agree with your reasons or decisions but they should know that what you have placed in your will is your desire for how you want your estate to be distributed. They should also know that you expect them to respect your desires even though they may not necessarily agree with you.
Taking the time and making the effort to draft a current will and other estate planning documents greatly reduces the chances of your family fighting over your estate.