By: Allison R. Burns, Esq.

In our many years of experience in both Trust and Probate Litigation, we have seen families torn apart over misconceptions related to their relatives’ estate plans. We can help you develop a clear picture of your estate holdings, allowing you to effectively communicate your wishes in a way that does not invite discussion. Here are four strategies you can use to keep your family members from squabbling over your property.

  1. Communicate with your kids before you finalize your estate plan.

Before finalizing your estate planning documents, it is best to have a conversation with your children and your other heirs about your wishes and their expectations. This is a great way to determine if something you might think is insignificant has a lot of meaning to another family member. If there are personal possessions that a family member wants, for example, you can gift it to them beforehand or through your estate planning documents.

  1. Plan early.

It is never too early to start thinking about developing your estate plan. Many of the conflicts we witness are caused by a lack of documentation of a parent’s intentions. Maybe you had a conversation with one child about giving them your grandmother’s wedding ring, but your other child was not aware of it. You may be surprised to hear that many estates go to court over items of personal property.

  1. Update your documents.

Every few years, you should look at your estate planning documents and determine if they still reflect your intentions. At the very least, you should update your estate plan after any major life event, such as marriage, divorce, adoption, or the onset of disability.

  1. Divide equally.

One of the main reasons we go to court over estates is because one child was caught off guard when he or she received less than another child. You may wish to give a larger share of your estate to one child for various reasons. Maybe one child took a more active role in caring for you and your spouse. Perhaps one child has disparate income in comparison to your other children. We can help you develop methods to divide your assets fairly and in a manner that does not cause discord among your relatives.

Parents in particular have a legal responsibility to protect their loved ones by developing clear and concise estate plans. By making sure that your intentions are unambiguously documented and easy to understand, you will help your adult children to make the right decisions in accordance with your wishes.

If, however, you are a child of a deceased parent and you do not believe that your parent’s wishes are being fulfilled by the designated fiduciary, please contact our office. We would be happy to advise you on your rights as a beneficiary of your parent’s estate or trust.