Talk about estate plan to avoid conflict
Have you discussed your estate plan with your children? Have you asked your parent(s) about their estate plan?
An article in the New York Times titled “What’s Almost as Certain as Death? Not Talking About the Inheritance,” detailed a report revealing the majority of Americans do not discuss estate plans with their children.
Problems can and do arise when children are surprised by their inheritance or when they do not get what they “expect.” Parents may have good reasons for giving their estate unequally to their children or giving specific assets to one child over another, but the children may not see it that way. Even if parents distribute their estate equally, it may cause conflicts if one of the children received “help” from their parents during their lifetimes. Add this to the fact that once both parents pass away, the likelihood increases that children will feel “free” to disagree or fight over the inheritance.
While it is easy to equally distribute liquid assets or sell the family home and split the proceeds, this is not true of family heirlooms and property that has sentimental value. If the family home or cottage is left to one child, the other children may feel slighted even if they receive an equal share of the total estate from other assets.
Often times it is the personal property with the least actual value that causes the biggest problems. In my experience, it is the pictures or personal property that is given to one child or simply given to equally to all the children that leads to the most family discord. I have been asked by clients to fight all the way into court over pictures and personal property that have no monetary value.
While it is not a guarantee, communication within the family is a key factor to avoiding conflicts. A family meeting, without the spouses of children, to discuss the estate plan and why specific decisions were made puts everything on the table and allows the family to possibly even create a plan that the children have some input into who gets what. By nature, however, most family members want to avoid the “tough” conversations regarding death and the distribution of the estate. This is especially true when parents know that their estate plan is going to “surprise” one or more of the children. But this is also when it is critical to talk about the estate plan in order to prevent major problems and conflict later on.
If you have an estate plan and have not discussed it with your adult children, then it is essential that you take the time to sit down with them to talk about it. If your parents have not discussed their estate plan with you or any of your siblings, encourage them to discuss it with the entire family so that you are not stuck with dealing with potential conflicts in the future. You could also have your estate planning attorney present the estate plan and help explain the legal issues involved and why specific decisions were made.