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Avoiding Family Estate Feuds: Communication is Key

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One of the most important aspects of estate planning is to foresee and resolve potential conflicts over an estate before they surface in the future. In the aftermath of a loved one's passing, emotions can run high, easily leading to heated arguments over how property and assets are to be distributed. Sometimes, even siblings who normally get along are known to fight over an inheritance as long-dormant feelings of hurt or jealousy suddenly reappear. So how can you minimize the possibility of a family feud over your estate?

First and foremost, good communication is key when ironing out any latent or future points of disagreement between heirs. Planning an estate is more than just laying out the basic distribution of property in a testamentary document. Not only should family heirlooms and other valuable assets be assigned to children and other close relatives, but also any items that carry a special emotional significance. Before these designations are put into writing in a will or trust, it's best to discuss them with all family members and elucidate your wishes, giving clear reasons for your decisions. It may be hard to talk to children about these matters, but by doing so you'll increase the chance of a smooth estate process while lessening the risk of a dispute.

  • In addition to talking it out and explaining your decisions, here are some other helpful ways to ensure your estate instructions are followed:
  • Compose detailed instructions regarding who will receive heirlooms, jewelry, and other valuables. You can even make a note as to why. Share these with your attorney and have them incorporated into your estate document.
  • Instead of appointing one or more of your children as executors of the will, avoid personal tangles by appointing a professional fiduciary who can distribute estate assets to beneficiaries in a fair and impartial manner.

A "no-contest" clause can be used in wills for families where there's a high likelihood of an estate dispute breaking out. In such a case, if a party contests the will, they forfeit their beneficiary rights and receive nothing. Keep in mind, however, that each party should be motivated enough to agree to the will's terms.

Whether you're looking to draft a will or a trust, speak with an attorney who is regularly engaged in estate law. Along with talking to your lawyer and financial professionals, keep in mind how crucial it is to have open, honest discussions with your children and other loved ones. "Unequal" distribution of estate property and assets doesn't mean "unfair," but explain why, both in person and in writing. If you remember one thing, it's that good communication with your family is worth its weight in gold.

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