We’ve all heard horror stories about family fights over a deceased loved one’s property. Sometimes these fights can ruin relationships for years to come and even negatively affect future generations.
You’ve worked hard and spent years cultivating what you have, and surely you don’t want your property to be the cause of feuds among your loved ones when you’re gone. Here are some suggestions on how to help avoid family fights over your property:
- Communicate with your loved ones
Communication is key in any relationship, so be open with your loved ones regarding your final affairs and wishes.
You don’t need to share what and how much each person will be receiving, but you can share how you are dividing the property. If one person is getting a larger portion, explain your why.
Not sure how to do this? You can hold a family meeting so everyone hears it at the same time and directly from you. This allows more free-flow conversation and questions to be answered personally.
If a family meeting seems overwhelming, or your loved ones aren’t local, write a letter conveying your desires for your estate plan. This type of letter (sometimes called a letter of intent, legacy letter, or an ethical will) isn’t legally binding, but it can keep loved ones informed about your intentions. As a bonus, this letter can also be a special way to express your feelings for the addressee.
- Decide how to distribute your personal property
Have you thought about how your personal property will be distributed?
We recommend including a personal property memorandum in your estate plan. If you don’t include one, or it’s left blank, typically discretion is given to the trustee or executor to distribute your property to your beneficiaries in equal shares.
Often this looks like hiring an appraiser, having an estate sale, and then dividing profits after the sale. But what seems fair to one person may not seem fair to another, so discuss different options with family members and decide on the method you prefer.
- Review your estate documents regularly
If you’ve been around Legacy Law Group for any amount of time, you’ve heard us say this before. (If you’re new – Welcome!)
It’s important to review your estate documents regularly. Life happens (read our article about which life events require an estate plan update), so maybe you need to update your estate plan.
Perhaps there is something in your plan that you don’t fully understand or have forgotten why it was included. If so, make note of your questions or concerns (on a sticky note; never on the documents), then contact us for an explanation of that section and the impact it has on you and your loved ones.
- Title your assets properly
It doesn’t matter how perfectly designed your estate plan is if your assets aren’t titled properly.
We see improperly titled assets most commonly in two scenarios:
- Property not titled in your trust. This error can occur by overlooking this important detail or by assuming it will automatically be included in your trust (it won’t).
- Joint titling bank accounts and/or real estate. This is often done for convenience. For example, adding an adult child to your bank account so they can help you pay your bills. It seems like it makes things easier, but it could have major legal consequences. Richard Chamberlain’s free-to-download book Protecting your Family – All about Wills, Trusts & Probate explores scenarios regarding joint titling.
- Examine beneficiary designations
People often assume their life insurance or retirement accounts will automatically be divided up according to their wishes expressed in their will or trust. This is not the case.
Typically whoever you named as your beneficiary will receive that money separate from your estate plan. For example, if you listed your oldest child as your beneficiary for your 401k account, but your estate plan says your property will be equally split between your four children, your oldest child will receive all of your 401k money in addition to 25% of your other property in your estate plan.
To avoid the family fight that would almost certainly come from that example, work with your estate planning attorney to determine how to best designate beneficiaries on your insurance and retirement accounts.
- Spend more time together
Rather than leaving it to your loved ones, spend some of your money building family memories now.
You can do a long weekend together, go on a family vacation, maybe even take a family heritage tour to learn about your family’s roots. Spending time together can strengthen relationships and create wonderful memories for years to come!
Strengthening those relationships can also reduce the chance of conflict between family members later.
We hope you use at least some of these suggestions to help your family avoid fights over your property. For more estate planning information, contact us at 419-872-7670 or request an appointment through our website.
About The Author: Richard Chamberlain
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