As a parent, you want your children to get along. Ideally be close. You want them to be able to rely on and support each other. This doesn't always happen in the childhood years, but more often than not, sibling rivalry and conflict dissipates after kids leave home, and strained relationships mend and even flourish in adulthood. Is your estate plan--or lack thereof--at risk of destroying your family bond? Are you leaving a legacy of hate?
Poor planning often results in long legal battles which squander the estate you worked so hard to leave behind, but even if you do have the three necessities--a will, advance medical directive, and durable power of attorney--and even if you've gone beyond that to forming trusts--perceived inequity has driven many a family to resentment, theft, and even violence. The best way to ensure your death doesn't disrupt family relationships for years to come is to leave no surprises. And the only way to do that is through communication.
Discussing these 3 topics before your death can drastically reduce the risk of postmortem drama.
- Your Choice of Executor This should be the person you trust most to follow your wishes and conduct the distribution of your estate with calmness and grace. If you are concerned this, in and of itself, could cause a fission in your family, then ask one of your trusted advisors to serve as your executor, for example your attorney, accountant, or financial planner.
- The Worth of Your Belongings Say one child has an affinity for your grandfather clock and the other siblings have clearly expressed that they have no interest in hearing that thing chime ever again. The obvious choice would be for the child who loves the clock to "put their name on it." As long as everyone is in agreement, that won't ruffle any feathers, right? Unless the appraisal of your assets after your death reveals that the clock was made in Imperial China and is worth $4 million. If your will states that Jim inherits the grandfather clock and the rest of your wealth is divided equally, Janie and Sam might be pretty peeved. The best way around this is to have your estate appraised now and factor this in.
- Who Gets What Take a group tour of the house so that each beneficiary can voice what they are emotionally attached to and clear with others that there is no conflict. If you have a beneficiary named that may be out of the ordinary--for example, your friend Thelma gets all of your amber jewelry because you bought it when you were on your unforgettable trip to Poland together--just make sure your family knows that. Make lists, put stickers on items, and make sure everybody is aware of what goes to whom. If there is a valuable possession that is sure to cause conflict, sell it.
Ultimately, the name of the game is to leave no surprises. Take some time to ponder what has not been communicated that may cause a rift, and remedy it.
In our article Creating a Family Legacy we talk about the long-term strategy of instilling values that will help preserve not only wealth but family bonds. How about that for a New Year's Resolution?