There are ways to avoid estate battles among family members.
When a relative leaves a sizable estate upon his or her death, it can raise all sorts of familial demons over who gets what, or how much.
There are ways to avoid unpleasantness in estate matters, and avoiding such battles can prevent family feuds that otherwise might last a very long time.
If you have a sizable estate and want to help your family as they deal with your passing someday, there are steps you can take:
Choose the Proper Executor: If you anticipate any sort of emotional response to the distribution of your estate, then choosing an executor with no claim on the estate is the way to go. You want to select someone that everyone in your family will trust. For some people, choosing the eldest child seems the proper thing to do, and that can work out assuming that child is liked and respected by the rest of the family.
Advance Notice: If there are unpleasant surprises in your will, and you don’t have any reason for keeping them a secret, then don’t keep them a secret. If you want one member of the family to be a recipient of more of your estate than another, explain that to both parties. If you are keeping someone out of your will who might expect to be mentioned, let them know. Those “reading of the will’’ surprises make for good TV drama, but don’t help anyone in the real world.
Keep Documents Up to Date: Make a decision to meet with your attorney on a regular basis, perhaps annually, to make sure your will reads as you want it to. Although it is unwise to make frequent changes, which can open the door for challenges, having an attorney who can state that you were fully aware of what your will said can eliminate challenges.
Be Specific: If there are items in your estate that have sentimental value, or will be desired by more than one beneficiary, spell out who gets what. It helps to explain why you are giving the family china to one daughter over another, or why the vintage automobile is going to one son over another. But specifically stating such intentions will reduce the number of fights that will take place once you pass.
To beneficiaries who have to deal with an estate after the passing of a loved one, here are some considerations:
Evict spouses: Blood relatives should be the only ones involved in an estate conversation. Even well-intentioned spouses can be seen as having evil intentions if an argument breaks out.
Identify Non-Family Beneficiaries: If there is someone outside the blood lines who the family feels should be included in the discussion, determine that in advance of anything else taking place.
Move nothing: Treat the deceased person’s home as a museum, and allow no item to be claimed in advance of the reading of the will. If someone claims an item was promised to them, ask them to wait for proof when the estate is executed.
Determine executor: If no executor was chosen prior to someone’s death, choosing a trusted family representative who has the respect of everyone involved is key. If a family can agree on a family member to serve in that position, fees are avoided, and a sense of familial love can be generated.
Get estate appraised: An appraisal can help determine the value of the estate, and if there is an interest in beneficiaries sharing in the estate equally, the only way to do that is to know what everything is worth.
Wish list: Assuming everyone plans on behaving in an adult fashion, ask all beneficiaries to make a “wish list’’ of items in the estate. Giving the executor a wish list from all beneficiaries can help him or her divvy up the property in an equal way and make as many people as possible satisfied with the disbursement.
Taking turns: It sounds a little silly, and of course would require a “paper-rock-scissors’’ moment to get things started, but taking turns on items of value can work, under the right circumstances.
Remembering the Deceased: It shouldn’t be required, but reminding everyone involved that the entire process of estate disbursement is occurring because the family has suffered a loss might help mitigate some potential arguments.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.