How to avoid family conflict as you make your estate plan

August 13, 2013

Unfortunately, money has a habit of bringing out the worst in people, even in the best of families. One of the most important reasons to get your estate plan in place is to keep your family out of conflict. And, yet, without the right counsel, your estate plan could actually cause conflict.

Here’s what to do to make sure that is not the case for your family:

Communicate your plans ahead of time. If you have adult children, consider inviting them into the planning process. Let them know ahead of time why you’ve made the decisions you’ve made and what your reasoning is. While this can be a difficult conversation, you can find a lawyer who is skilled at handling such discussions. In the end, the less surprise for your loved ones, the better.

Do not put one sibling in charge of another sibling’s inheritance. Unless agreed to ahead of time by both siblings, putting one sibling in charge of another will almost always lead to resentment and disagreement. You can avoid this with strong communication and agreement ahead of time. Or you can appoint someone else to care for your child’s inheritance.

Transfer some now instead of all later. Consider how you can begin to transfer assets to your children during your lifetime. You can gift some now to both save on estate tax and influence how your children use the gifted assets. This allows you to pass on your values right along with the gift, instead of waiting until you are gone to pass on everything you’ve worked so hard for.

Make changes when necessary. Estate planning is an ongoing process. When changes occur in your life—even if it is the divorce of a child or the arrival of a new grandchild—your plan needs to change as well. Your life is going to change, and the law will definitely change; keep your plan working in harmony with your current circumstances, rather than allowing your plan to collect dust over the years.

Pass on more than just your money. Most estate plans focus only on your tangible assets, but your most valuable assets are your values, insights, stories, and experience. Consider how you might pass on these assets that are most often lost when someone dies, such as through videos and letters to your loved ones. And, honestly, these intangible assets are what will keep your family focused on what really matters after you are gone.

Choose the right advisor. Develop a strong working relationship with your lawyer that will allow you the freedom to frankly discuss your family dynamics, plan accordingly, and keep the family involved every step of the way.