Watching your family grow and change, you may feel sad when you see the tensions that exist among your children, stepchildren or other family members. Perhaps you even anticipate that, after you leave this world, those tensions may become worse, especially if your heirs squabble over your estate. While it may be tempting to leave it all to fate, doing so may result in lifelong discord among your loved ones and bitterness directed at your memory.
Each family is different, and the reasons why family members feel resentful toward each other are unique. However, there are some common instigators of disputes among heirs after someone dies.
One of the most common reasons why heirs fight is because the person who died left no estate plan. Often, family members already have some disagreement that flares into a full-blown war in the face of inheritance uncertainties. The best way to avoid such contention is to write a will. Having a will may eliminate some of the questions and leave your heirs with a better idea of your desires regarding the distribution of your property. However, estate planners recommend the following precautions:
- Choose your estate executor carefully, especially if you know there are already jealousies or rivalries among your heirs.
- Consider naming more than one executor if reaching decisions together will reduce the possibility of disputes.
- Write a letter of instruction to further explain the terms of the will.
- If you suspect an heir will contest the will, consider a non-contestability clause, which cancels anyone's inheritance if they unsuccessfully dispute the will in court.
One of the simplest ways to prevent disputes and contests among your heirs is to communicate with them. By discussing your estate plan with your heirs, you will have the chance to explain the reasons behind your decisions, and they can ask questions and speak their minds. Discussing your plan ahead of time may also eliminate any claim an heir might have that you were of unsound mind when you made your will.
Most people have a good sense of their family dynamic and the potential for disputes after they pass away. If tensions or rivalries already exist, you may not want to contribute to their escalation by leaving your estate in a condition of uncertainty.
An experienced attorney can assess your personal circumstances and present you with the options for an estate plan that will distribute your assets with as little controversy as possible. A board certified attorney who can assist with financial planning and evaluate any tax issues will be a strong advocate as you make these difficult decisions.