Estate planning isn’t just a legal process, it’s an emotional process—and sometimes rife with drama. Dealing with the loss of a loved one is traumatizing on its own; adding an estate planning dispute can serve to heighten feelings of grief and lack of resolution. If your family is known for its sibling rivalries, lack of communication, or other such problems, it’s critical to reflect on these issues prior to solidifying any estate plan. By assessing what can go wrong from the outset, you can ensure that your wishes will be granted and potentially prevent unnecessary court battles.
Below are four signs there may be a family feud over your estate and what you can do to prevent future problems.
1. Sibling Rivalry
A parent’s, or parents’ death(s) can be the ultimate test to preexisting tensions between brothers or sisters. The grief of a parent’s passing on its own can trigger unresolved memories and feelings, leaving the settlement of an estate as a potential battleground to settle old fights. If you are already aware of tension between children, appointing a trustee who’s disassociated from the family or any rivalry may mitigate its effects. Even if your children appear to get along, an estate can often bring issues to the surface. It’s always wise to take preventative steps even if siblings seem to get along.
2. Economic Differences Among Heirs
Differences in the financial standing of heirs can have its own set of pitfalls. For example, if you intend on leaving real property to three children, the less well-off child may want to sell the house for quick financial gain, while the more financially stable heirs may wish to move in the home, rent it out, or make other uses for it. This, in and of itself, can create tension and issues among heirs as they fight for the “best use” of the asset. This issue can be avoided by providing specific instructions as to the sale or maintenance of real property.
3. Advanced Benefit to One Heir Over the Others
Whether the goal is to help an heir’s small business, to provide startup funding, or money for graduate school, it is understandable and not uncommon to want to support an eventual heir financially, often earlier than planned. In advancing a benefit to one heir over the others, however, you can create strained relations among siblings, as they may resent the heir who received the benefit.
4. Late Marriage
Although it’s not the norm, sometimes relationships form in the very last years of life, even leading to marriage. Existing heirs may perceive the new spouse, especially when female, as having ulterior motives and become resentful. To avoid potential issues, it’s important for people to regularly review and update their trusts—especially when married.
Like most estate planning issues, prevention, education, and communication are essential. By speaking with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can effectively avoid future problems.