A common issue that arises when parents have more than one child is how to distribute their estate. Should it be equally no matter what or should other factors play a part? For example, one child may have a greater financial need or may spend more time with mom and dad, so the parents are considering an unequal distribution to reflect those circumstances. However, such unequal distribution often leads to a will contest, not to mention the damage to the sibling relationship.

As pointed out in a recent article in Forbes, arguing over a will is often about more than money. Old rivalries and feelings about unfair treatment from childhood make these fights even more destructive. As a parent, a good way to avoid or at least minimize the quarreling is to be proactive.

If you think your estate planning may lead to family disputes, here are a few tips:

  • Make sure all your estate planning documents are complete and up-to-date. That means not just your will, but also any trusts, powers of attorney, health care proxies, life insurance policies, bank accounts and anything else with beneficiary designations. You can inadvertently create an unequal distribution by leaving assets outside your will to one child and not another.
  • Document and communicate your decision to your family beforehand but do it in a structured way. Have a family meeting and include your estate planning attorney and a family mediator. Using an attorney and mediator can help you clearly explain why you are distributing your assets in a particular way. You should do this in writing as well as in-person. You are not legally obligated to provide a reason for your actions, but there are benefits in doing so. You may diminish some of the anger/disappointment of your children if they understand your reasoning. Having someone present at a family meeting who is experienced in dealing with family disputes can facilitate these discussions.
  • Discuss long-term care. I have found that bad feelings over an estate plan can often be avoided if parents involve their children in discussions about parental long-term care needs. This approach brings all the involved parties to the table and allows participation in those events that may impact the final distribution of assets.

Following these tips could help to avoid the time and money of a legal battle over your estate.

We empower clients with our attorney/mediator services, helping them resolve disputes involving wills, caretaking, guardianships and other family conflicts. If you need assistance with your estate planning or long-term care plans, contact me for a consultation.