There are a few situations in life where surprises are not fun: the operating room and a post-funeral meeting with the estate planning attorney.
You could have the best of intentions and even the best estate plan possible. But if your heirs haven’t been told what you have in mind, you may create a legacy of bitterness and family discord, according to Forbes in “How to Keep Your Heirs from Fighting Over Your Estate.”
You’d think talking about your intentions ahead of time would be easy enough, but many people choose not to do so—regardless of what happens. Research shows that fewer than 33% of people discuss their estate plans with their children. More than 20% of bequest recipients fight over inheritances. But 63% of families reporting no disputes over inheritance issues tell surveys they’ve had advance notice of what to expect. And more than 80% believe they were treated fairly. Talking about your plans with the people involved can make a huge difference.
If the terms of your will or trust are unique or vary from state intestacy guidelines, speaking to everyone involved is critical. For example, if you plan to leave 80% of your estate to one child instead of splitting it 50-50 between both sons, let them know your rationale for your decision. The more your heirs see your logic, the less apt they’ll be to contest your estate plan. Plus, if there’s a conflict, you’re still around to help work out the issues.
Another way to help reduce conflicts is by adding a “no-contest” clause. This means if an heir contests the will or trust, they get nothing.
If your family includes some members who can’t get along with others, there may be nothing you can do about preventing any arguments, but for most families, speaking candidly with your heirs now will have a big impact on how the family manages after you have passed. At the very least, you will have peace of mind knowing that you made the effort.
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