Three things you can do now to prevent a family war later.
Let’s face it, tension and rivalry are almost always present somewhere lurking beneath the surface in most families. However, couple it with death and money, that tension tends to bubble over into a full out family war.
Grief can impact individuals differently. After someone dies, fighting over money is usually not even about the money. Let that sink in.
Fortunately, there are three things that you can do ahead of time to keep the peace.
- Communicate early and often:
Fights between siblings are not about the money/possessions. They are about feelings. If you leave one daughter your wedding ring and one daughter your costume jewelry it may not necessarily mean you love one more than the other, however it could be interpreted that way. So, what do you do?
Talk to your children about your wishes until they tell you to stop. No seriously. Communicating with them often about who gets what will eliminate any surprises and hurt feelings in the future. It also gives you a chance to clearly state your intentions in giving each item to each person.
If you have decided that one of your children will make health or financial decisions for you, inform all your children of the decision, not just the care-giving child.
These kinds of talks can be uncomfortable and there is no easy way to broach the topic. It is often best to have the family all together as opposed to talking to each individual child separately. I have found that the best way to start is by saying that you would like to talk about a difficult subject because you feel like it is in the best interest of your family.
Of course, you must also document your wishes in your estate plans, keep them up to date, and communicate any changes as they happen.
- Get input from your children:
One of the simplest ways to avoid family conflict is to ask each child what family heirloom they might want. It is much better to have the issue surface now while you are still around to explain your decisions. Ask if any items hold special meaning for them. Something as simple as a piece of artwork or an old family photo album may be of much more value and interest to one of your children than you thought or anticipated. Take some time after these conversations to digest all the information. Write everything down and consider the economic value and any potential disagreements that may arise before you make your decisions. You can honor your children’s wishes as much as possible while still making sure each of your children receive a collection of items of similar economic and sentimental value.
When you make a final decision about how to distribute your items, make sure to document your wishes in your estate documents.
- Be detailed about your plans:
Meet with an attorney and develop a detailed estate plan that embodies all the decisions you need to make about your estate, your end of life wishes and surrogate decision makers. It is best to meet with your lawyer independently without your children present. You need to be able to freely express your wishes without worrying about who might be upset by them. Your lawyer also needs to know that you are expressing your honest wishes and are not being influenced by anyone. Your children will be less likely to blame their siblings when they are assured that the choices were yours, even if they don’t like your decisions.