Estate Planning Can Help Parents Prevent Family Feuds

I have three children who get usually get along. But virtually every day, they squabble about something trivial.

For example, they may argue over who gets to eat the last banana or container of yogurt in the fridge. Or they may bicker over a Lego block that each needs to complete their unique creation. As a parent who craves a harmonious family, my heart aches. Siblings aren’t supposed to fight light that like that, are they?

While arguments about bananas, yogurt and Lego are unpleasant, they are quickly forgotten. But they illustrate how feuds can start over seemingly insignificant things. This is especially so when grieving the loss of a loved one, when tensions and emotions run high. And the battles that ensue often cause irreparable harm.

Claudia Beck recently wrote an article titled “Estate Planning Prevents Family Feuds,” which reviewed a book written by attorneys Barry M. Fish and Les Kotzer called “Where There’s a Will…” The book is a collection of 80 true stories about siblings and other family members who battle senselessly about trivial items, and in the process destroy their relationships with one another.

The problems start either because a parent doesn’t have a will or, if a will was made, doesn’t specifically bequeath personal items to his or her children. He or she fully expects the children to cooperate with one another, and to distribute personal items in their estate equitably between them.

But what happens if a mother owns a painting that both her children have always admired, or a piece of jewelry that both her daughters have assumed would one day become theirs? Without any guidance from her about who should get those items, a conflict can result.

The article mentions how one angry sister smashed a crystal vase she had given her mother “so nobody will get it” after she discovered that it would be divided up in the estate rather than given to her. It also mentions some siblings who spent three years and $15,000 in attorney’s fees fighting over items worth only a few hundred dollars.

Estate planning can help your family avoid conflicts such as the ones mentioned in the article. Talk to your children and determine whether there is anything that in particular that they would like when you’re gone. Then include a memorandum in your estate planning documents detailing how your personal effects should be distributed.

You can’t prevent all conflicts between your children, but estate planning can help you make sure you’re not responsible for causing one.

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