HOW TO KEEP YOUR KIDS FROM FIGHTING OVER YOUR STUFF:
5 STEPS YOU CAN TAKE NOW
We’ve all heard stories about ugly fights between siblings over who gets what after mom or dad died. We may even have been involved in one of these battles. It doesn’t seem to matter whether there is a lot to fight over or not; long held sibling rivalries sometimes erupt once both parents are gone. What can you do to keep your own kids from fighting over your estate? While nothing can guarantee peace and harmony among your kids after you’re gone, here are five things you can do to minimize those disputes:
- Don’t try to control your children from the grave. Yes it’s your money and property and yes you can do anything you want with it. But many conflicts begin when a parent treats his children unequally, even though one of those children may be successful and not “need” anything from you, or another may have acted badly and not “deserve” it. Consider family and sibling dynamics and the emotional as well as financial consequences of treating children unequally. Of course, if one child has special needs, your estate planning can include a “special needs trust” to handle that child’s share; and if one child has been a major care-giver you can make special provisions to account for that.
- Don’t bring your kids to see your lawyer. Almost everyone with any assets at all will benefit from consulting a lawyer about estate-planning. And almost everybody is well-advised to have a living trust and will. But deal with your lawyer independently of your children or other relatives or even friends. You’ll be able to express your preferences, fears and desires openly, so that he or she can give you honest advice.
- Keep your will and trust up-to-date. Major life changes—marriage, a new child, divorce, (and perhaps especially) remarriage—require updating your will and trust. Make sure those documents always reflect your current wishes. You simply can’t depend on your second wife or your oldest child or anyone else to take your intentions into account if those intentions are clearly expressed in a valid will and living trust.
- Provide a plan for those sentimental items. So you have a clear estate plan as to your bank accounts and investments and real estate, and you think there is nothing to fight over. What about your personal property? Sibling rivalry can arise over sentimental items with little or no value, often leaving rifts that never heal. Include a fair method of dividing up those possessions; your lawyer can help you devise one.
- Avoid surprises later: tell your adult children now. Last but not least, after your estate planning is complete, talk to your adult kids. Tell then who you are choosing to be executor, and why. Explain why Susie is getting her mother’s china, why a special needs trust is to be set up for Bobby, why the family home is to be sold and the proceeds divided equally (which doesn’t preclude the child who wants it so badly from buying it), and so on. If possible, set reasonable expectations: let them know how much you expect your estate to be worth. A little communication now may help to minimize disputes later on.