When you’re developing your estate plan, it’s important to acknowledge challenging family dynamics that might cause conflicts after you’re gone. Many people don’t like to admit to their estate planning attorney — or to themselves — that their children don’t get along or that their blended family isn’t exactly The Brady Bunch. However, attorneys have heard it all. By knowing what your concerns are, they can help you develop a plan that will minimize conflict.
If some conflict is inevitable, it’s important to communicate your reasoning and wishes to your family while you’re still around. Perhaps including a therapist or mediator in these discussions can help — particularly if there are significant assets involved. If you don’t feel up to that, including a “letter of intention” in your estate plan that your loved ones can read may help.
Sibling rivalries are behind many estate plan contests. If one of your kids has had some tough breaks or has simply chosen a profession that isn’t particularly lucrative, you may feel obligated to leave them more money than the child who doesn’t need it.
However, the wealthier child may resent their sibling for receiving a larger inheritance. Even if a child is so financially secure that they have no need for your money, it’s still a good idea to leave them something. Excluding them can be extremely hurtful.
It’s almost never a good idea to leave one child out of your estate plan completely. Often this is done because of a substance abuse or spending problem that makes parents fear that any money their child receives will be rapidly lost — perhaps spent on something dangerous. There are options such as spendthrift trusts that allow parents to leave something to those children but with the money controlled by a responsible trustee.
If you have the means to assign a separate trustee or financial advisor to each child, you can help show them all that their futures matter to you. It’s generally unwise to make one of your children the executor of your estate or give them other fiduciary powers. Making them a trustee of a sibling’s trust can be a particularly bad idea.
Discuss your family dynamics and your concerns honestly with your estate planning attorney. They can help you create a plan that will minimize hard feelings among your loved ones after you’re gone.