When there is a death in the family, most would say that’s when families should be closest to one another as each other’s support network. However, when a parent passes and the question of who gets what inevitably comes up, it can be some of the most tumultuous times in a family.
The number one reason families fight over inheritance can be translated in many ways: whether you want to call it inequality, the fear of scarcity, or some variation of the two, it boils down to someone feeling like they’re being shorted. Below are a few tips for avoiding a fight over inheritance:
Make your wishes clear
You can avoid this from happening by not having any surprises arise. Sometimes when a parent passes, one or more of the heirs are left surprised. The heirs that are left unpleasantly surprised will feel bitter as they recognize their expectations did not translate into reality. When you’ve told them one thing, and a legal document or rules you may misunderstand say otherwise, the law will rule the day. When heirs get surprised, they tend to get uncooperative and refuse to engage in conversation necessary to close out the estate, so it’s best to avoid it.
Make estate expectations clear
Sometimes certain parties to an estate settlement can be greedy legally, but it ends up in animosity. Take a case where a father wants to leave his estate to his four children and names the oldest child as the executor. The executor’s job is to divide the estate, and as payment, the executor is entitled to a certain percentage fee. If the oldest child takes the fee right off the top of the estate and then gets his executor duties going, it can irritate the other children. You can provide that the executor is not entitled to compensation (though since we handle lots of probate we know that’s not entirely either because it is a lot of work!).
If your child must be your executor, you should talk to that child beforehand about your expectations and whether they will waive the executor fee, or make sure the other children know “your sibling will get a fee and that’s my wish.”
Follow the formalities
It also may be that one or more of your children don’t follow formalities or rules when you pass. For example, if a parent passes and one of the children rolls up to their home one day after they pass and takes a bunch of stuff they want, the other siblings may start wondering where all that stuff went when dividing up the estate. Another possibility is one child being a power of attorney on a parent’s bank account and moving the funds after the parent’s death (but before the bank knows). Again, communication about your expectations ahead of time is key in avoiding a potential fight over inheritance.
Why communication is key
People start suspecting the worst when there’s no clear communication between the family immediately after a death. Suspicion creates stress among the beneficiaries. Getting everybody together to hash it out before things get out of control is key. You’ll want to establish the following in writing: what the expectations are, how things will play out, and how family concerns are addressed during the meeting.
The most important aspect of good communication is will or trust’s language itself. Having your documents drafted in a clear way that follows formality requirements is essential to avoid a fight over inheritance. Do not get lured into creating a DIY estate plan online– children fighting due to poor drafting is one of the many pitfalls a DIY plan can land you in. Further, if you do not follow formality requirements for a will to be valid, a disgruntled child can challenge the validity altogether.
Working with an experienced estate planning attorney makes all the difference when ensuring the probate process goes as smoothly as possible. If you’re ready to take control of your estate plan, we’d love to hear from you.
Attend an estate planning workshop
If you are interested in learning more, we invite you to attend one of our free, educational workshops. You’ll leave the seminar with newfound knowledge on making your estate plan work for you, avoiding common pitfalls, and the answers to some of our most frequently asked questions.