Helping your kids to avoid estate-related fights

On Behalf of | Jul 5, 2024 | Estate Administration & Probate |

Parents of multiple children understand that siblings are hard-wired for conflict from time to time. Conflict is a way that children tend to assert their identity and values in ways that are somewhat distinct from their siblings. Thankfully, most siblings grow out of a need to fight with one another as they age. However, this isn’t always the case.

Parents who are concerned that their children will fight over “who gets what” when they pass away can benefit from engaging in thoughtful estate planning efforts. Setting clear expectations in estate planning documents can significantly reduce the likelihood of disputes among children, better ensuring a smoother and more amicable distribution of assets.

Detailed wills

A comprehensive and detailed will serves as the foundation of the most effective estate plans. By explicitly stating how assets should be divided, parents can minimize ambiguity and prevent misunderstandings. A clear will should:

  • List specific bequests: Detail who receives particular items of personal property, such as family heirlooms, jewelry or collectibles
  • Address residual estate assets: Clearly outline how any remaining estate assets not detailed in the will – or other estate planning resources – should be divided among beneficiaries
  • Appoint an executor: Clarify a trustworthy executor who understands the family dynamics and can impartially administer the estate

It is important to update this document when significant life changes or financial circumstances warrant, otherwise efforts at preventing in-fighting are unlikely to be as successful as they otherwise might have been. 

Trusts

Creating trusts can provide further clarity and control over asset distribution. Trusts can be tailored to meet the specific needs of beneficiaries and can be particularly useful in complex family situations. Benefits of trusts include:

  • Avoiding probate: Trusts can help bypass the probate process, making the distribution of assets quicker and less contentious than it might otherwise be
  • Specific conditions: Trusts can set conditions for beneficiaries to receive their inheritance, such as reaching a certain age or achieving specific milestones, allowing parents greater control over the execution of their wishes

And, unlike wills, which become public records, trusts remain private, reducing the potential for disputes

Setting clear expectations in estate planning documents about “who should get what” is important for preventing conflicts among siblings. Parents may even benefit from drafting letters of instruction to include in their estate plans, which can help to clarify why certain decisions have been made. Seeking personalized legal guidance is a good way to get started.