1. Minimize family feuds
Despite good parenting, lots of refereeing and separate bedrooms, sometimes siblings just can’t seem to get along. What’s a parent to do? Well, when it comes to planning your estate you can be sure that whatever fighting those brothers (or sisters) were doing while you were around, that it’s only going to get worse with your departure. In your Will, pick a Will Agent (Executor) that everyone respects. If you have a Trust, make sure the Trustee has the authority to make decisions and the respect of everyone involved.
Hopefully you’ve spent many glorious decades in blissful matrimony to your high school sweetheart … and that’s the case, drop us a note as we’d love some reliable advice! But if your journey included multiple trips to the alter, bear in mind that the children of your first marriage may have feelings about how their step mom or dad should be treated in your plans.
2. Play favorites at your own risk
The loss of a loved one can be very emotional and people often search for ways to make peace with the past. Nothing destroys that sense of wellbeing than a feeling of being treated unevenly (even if it wasn’t intentional). For example, splitting the family home between three kids in a 50/25/25 may seem fair. But if one person doesn’t want to sell the house or needs the money from a sale right away, it can cause problems (not to mention that the ones that got 25% might feel slighted). Or if you have a child with a mental illness or other dependency, be sure and let everyone know why you’re giving them special consideration.
Some families have special items like baseball card collections, china or family heirlooms. If you have those items, try to divide them up so that everyone feels like they got something special. Also, if during your lifetime you helped one child out with a down payment or other gift, then you may want to consider that. Lastly, some people choose to leave out a family member because of bad blood or changed circumstances. While you are absolutely entitled to distribute your assets however you choose, be sure that a late marriage, recent argument or other unfortunate event doesn’t tarnish your legacy.
3. Make sure the process is fair
Did you ever see the movie with the wealthy old guy lying in bed and the scheming adult child tries to get dad to leave them more than their fair share? Sadly, it doesn’t just happen in the movies. Estate documents that are signed under conditions where someone is very sick, under the influence of medication or in a nursing home can be called in question. Be sure your documents are done at a time when you have complete mental capacity so there’s no question that they represent your true wishes.
At the end of life, people are often motivated to come together and reconcile their past problems. Those changes in relationships can be a wonderful blessing. You’ll want to make sure that your estate planning choices reflect your overall wishes and not just the latest person you’ve connected with.