Estate Planning Law

Sibling Squabbles – How Estate Planning Can Avoid Fights Over Inheritance

Sadly, the phrase “It’s such a shame that we can’t get along,” is something you commonly hear when adult siblings are in a lawyer’s office trying to resolve issues surrounding an inheritance.  In fact, we at Doane & Doane have all too often been involved in matters in which families are torn apart, or already existing fault lines are made worse when families feud over an inheritance.

Given that our firm has seen our share of family disputes over the death of a loved one, we thought it would be fitting to devote a little time to discuss ways in which you can minimize, or avoid altogether, family disputes through proper estate planning.

Money is Usually Not the Object

We have all seen the stereotype of family members bitterly fighting over an inheritance because they are looking for a big payout.  That, however, is not often the focus of an inheritance dispute.  

Most times, the source of the dispute comes from pride, prior resentments, or perceived slights. Siblings and other family members are vying for inheritance because they need some indication of love or approval. Given that those needs are intangible, money serves as the proxy to measure those other, far more psychological, needs in family members.  

Thus, money is typically not the reason for the fighting. Rather, money is the litmus test by which the other intangible needs are measured. 

It Can Be Challenging, But Talk it Out

There is no question that most parents find it challenging to talk with their children about money and matters involving inheritance. It is important, however, to make sure there is a conversation about those issues.

In fact, there are three occasions in particular that serve as perfect opportunities to have the conversation – (i) at retirement; (ii) when making health care plans and directives; and (iii) when engaging in estate planning.

Accordingly, we recommend that you can better manage expectations and avoid family squabbles down the road if you use one or all of those opportunities to have a discussion about money matters.

5 Tips on How to Avoid Fights over Inheritance

As experienced probate and estate planning attorneys, we have had lots of opportunities to be ‘up close and personal’ with many family disputes. That is why we suggest the following five tips that may help you avoid disputes over inheritance.

1. Make a Plan and Communicate the Basics

The first thing you should do is to be proactive and create an estate plan. It is recommended that you do so with the assistance of an experienced estate planning lawyer in West Palm Beach, like the professionals at Doane & Doane.

Once the plan is created, then call a family meeting to discuss any of your estate plans that could impact your children. While you do not need, nor is it advisable, to get into too much detail, this type of communication is important. That is because it is often the case that children have an inflated sense of what their inheritance might look like. This type of conversation, then, is a way to manage expectations.  

Your estate plan should not be something that is up for debate. The purpose of the communication here is not to invite feedback or to persuade your children of the right course. It is more to ensure that your family has better information as to what to expect.  

2. Try for Equal Division

It is advisable to avoid leaving more assets to the children who you think may financially need it more. That is a recipe for your more successful children to feel penalized for their success in some way. It is most often the case that equal distribution leads to the least amount of conflict.

3. Choosing an Executor

It is no problem choosing a particular child as the executor, but it is wise to have some rationale for why that child was picked. Perhaps he or she has a legal or financial background, perhaps he or she lives closer to where you live. It is also not a bad idea to get your children’s names in your estate documents, allowing all of your children, if possible, to help in some way.

4. Specify Whether Something is a Loan or Gift

If, during your life, you give your adult children money, then be sure to specify whether the money is a loan or a gift.  If it is a loan, then you should specify how, and to whom, it is to be repaid. Or, you may be able to specify that the loan is to be forgiven by your estate. Whichever is the best option for you, make sure that it is articulated in your estate plan. When there is a lack of clarity, conflict can arise.

5. Family Heirlooms

Jewelry, artwork, antique furniture, and musical instruments are all types of objects that may not be financially valuable but could hold great sentimental value to you or your children. In your estate plan, take some time to consider those items and which children may feel the greatest attachment to them. Then, specify how those heirlooms will be distributed.

It is certainly not a bad idea to have a conversation with your children about which items may be of particular sentimental value. Again, communication is key in ensuring that your adult children will not wind up in a bitter dispute over certain items in your estate.

Estate Planning Lawyers in West Palm Beach Can Help You

At Doane & Doane, we have the resources and experience with estate planning issues to help you. Having handled many, many probate matters in the past, we have seen first-hand how ugly disputes can arise when inheritance comes into play, and when the parents are not clear on their wishes ahead of time. Let us help you avoid those possible disputes by creating a thoughtful estate plan now.  

So, if you think it is now time to get started on your own estate plan, give us a call. Our advanced estate planning lawyers in West Palm Beach are ready to assist you and get you that peace of mind you need. Call Doane & Doane today for more information at 561-656-0200.