Creating an estate plan that spells out your wishes in detail can help reduce conflict among your heirs. However, you’ll need to keep in mind a few key considerations.
Consider Choosing an Independent Trustee
Family relationships are complex and grief over the passing of a loved one often brings out the worst in people. If your heirs don’t get along well, consider naming a trust company as an independent trustee to minimize conflict.
Think Carefully About Unequal Treatment
In most cases, it’s best to treat all heirs equally in your will. However, there are some circumstances in which unequal treatment might be appropriate. For example, you may want to leave additional funds to your widowed daughter to help care for her special-needs child, or you may feel that your son’s medical career makes him less in need of an inheritance than his lower-earning siblings. If you decide to leave different amounts to each of your heirs, explain your reasons in your will to avoid the speculation that you’re unfairly favoring one child over the other.
If you wish to disinherit one of your children entirely, you’ll need to make your wishes clear by stating “I make no provision for person X.” Otherwise, it could be argued that the omission was an accidental error.
Spell Out Expectations for Lifetime Gifts or Loans
If you’ve assisted a child with starting a business, purchasing a home, or recovering from a financial crisis, your estate plan should spell out how you wish to treat this assistance. Was it gift with no strings attached, an advance on the inheritance, or a loan to be repaid with interest? There’s no right answer to these questions, but you’ll need to decide one way or the other.
Have a Plan for Items With Sentimental Value
Bank accounts can easily be divided amongst multiple heirs, but antiques, artwork, jewelry, and family heirlooms can create an unexpected source of conflict if you fail to recognize their sentimental value. Talk to your children about your personal effects to see if there are specific items they would like to have. Your eldest daughter may dream of hosting Christmas dinner with your great-grandmother’s wedding china, or your younger son may have his heart set on displaying in his own home the painting he loved as a boy.
Update Your Estate Plan Regularly
Your estate plan should be constantly evolving as your financial situation and life circumstances change. Births, deaths, marriages, and divorces may also require a review of your plan—particularly if you’re planning to leave an inheritance to your grandchildren.
Attorney George H. Pender has extensive experience helping North Carolina residents prepare an effective estate plan. Call 919-873-0166 to schedule an appointment.