How can you increase the odds that your children won’t fight over the family assets after your death?
Children don’t always fight after their parents’ deaths. However, family fights happen more often than you might think.
Below are some steps that you can take to help reduce the odds of a fight breaking out.
Write a Will. A Will enables you to nominate someone as the Personal Representative of your estate. This very act can help get the estate administration process off to a good start by avoiding fights among your children as to who will be the Personal Representative. Your Personal Representative administers your estate, so select someone who is patient, comfortable with numbers, diplomatic and trustworthy.
Write your Will with care, and update it over time. Think of it as your last conversation with your family.
Make a List Regarding Your Personal Possessions. Fights among heirs are often focused on items of little monetary value, but of significant sentimental value.
Minnesota Wills typically provide for a “separate writing” for the distribution of specific items of personal property. In other words, this separate list is incorporated into the Will, but is a separate list. To create it, describe each item clearly and list the intended recipient of that item. When you are finished with the list, sign and date it. You can have more than one list, and the lists can be prepared on different dates. If the same item is listed on multiple lists, the list with the most recent date prevails regarding that item. If you gave the item away before your death, it’s just gone.
Gift Items Before You Die. When you gift some of your personal possessions before your death, you’ll have the added benefit of seeing first-hand the recipient’s appreciation of your thoughtfulness. And, you will have removed that item from your pile of assets that could trigger fights.
Be aware, however, that the items that you consider to be family keepsakes may not match perfectly with the items that various family members consider to be precious. Sometimes children find important sentimental value in items of little to no value to you or others. You could, of course, ask each of your children what is most precious to them and try to grant their wishes to the extent possible.
Treat Your Children Fairly. There’s a difference between “equal” and “fair”, and sometimes your mix of assets doesn’t lend itself easily to an equal division. This is particularly true if a business is involved. Be careful. Children sometimes equate the level of your love for them with how you treat them at your death. When the division isn’t equal, the children who have received less may feel less loved.
Write a “Last Letter”. Estate planning documents cover the basics, but they don’t transmit your love and affection toward your family. Here’s where the last letter can fill the void, particularly in situations where you don’t want to treat your children equally for some practical reason. Store your last letter with your Will so that it can be found at the appropriate time.
Loan or Gift? If you loaned money to one of your children, charge interest and get the loan in writing so that your other children won’t feel cheated when their sibling claims after your death that the loan was really a gift.
Avoid joint ownership with a child. Why? At your death, the joint-owner child will legally be considered the sole owner of that asset, which will give that child a bigger portion of your estate than your other children receive even though your estate plan sought to divide your assets equally. That situation occurs because assets owned jointly are not impacted by the language in your Will.
Consider Control Issues With Real Estate or Businesses. If you bequeath real estate or a business to your children jointly, you may trigger fights rather than prevent them. Why? Some of your children may wish to keep the real estate or the business while the others want to sell and get cash. A better approach is to work out the transfer of these assets in discussions with your children prior to your death.
An estate planning lawyer can help you work through these issues as they relate to your particular situation.
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