Preventing a Family Feud

How to Prevent a Family Feud with Proper Estate Planning

We have a saying around here in our office: “You truly don’t know someone until you have to share an inheritance with them.” When two or more heirs are splitting an inheritance, there’s always the potential of a family feud. We do see some cases where heirs are cordial to one another, but that’s not always the case.

Lately it seems that the family feud is much more prevalent that in past years. And all these disagreements between family members is usually about “stuff.” Many times it’s not about money or property, but mostly just personal belongings or “stuff!”

Let me give you an example that we had here at the Davidson Law Offices. We had a client who came into our office, and we told him that his sisters were wanting copies of some family photographs in his possession. I told the client that I would copy the photos for his sisters if he would just bring them to my office. It wasn’t going to cost him a dime and he was still going to keep the originals. He did bring me the photos, but he had cut them into thirds! I have no idea what caused him to be this spiteful, but this is a perfect example of a family feud over “stuff.”

We see it all the time with children, grandchildren, in-laws, and other relatives who continually argue over possessions from a loved one that has passed. So what do you do? How do you try and prevent a family feud amongst your heirs? Do you just leave all your children in charge as opposed to appointing one of your children to handle the distribution of your estate? You probably don’t want to do that because they’ll all argue to the point where there is nothing left of the estate.

The point here to remember is that you’re leaving them something to enjoy. You’re leaving them a legacy. You want the kids to enjoy the legacy rather than fight over your possessions. If you don’t establish someone you trust to distribute your assets and positions based on your wishes, a family feud is the likely the result.

Avoiding the Family Feud

So how do you determine who you will appoint as your trustee, personal representative, or executor of your wishes. It definitely has to be somebody you trust! It needs to be someone you know will be fair. It could be one or two of your children, but it doesn’t have to be. Some people choose their attorney, CPA, or even a friend because that allows someone in a neutral position to handle the distribution of property and assets.

If you have a will, then you have the right to say who gets your property, when they get your property, and how they will receive your property. You need someone who is going to be in charge of this property distribution. That person needs to be someone who will execute your wishes regardless of the opinions of the heirs.

If you do want to leave your children involved in some way, you can put them on an advisory committee. This will allow them to have a voice, but they won’t have the ultimate decision-making power. This is a great option if you are concerned about one or more of your children being fair.

One of our previous blogs discussed the concept of fair vs. equal estate planning. In that blog we basically explain that fair isn’t the same thing as equal and equal doesn’t always mean fair. Just because you have three children, that doesn’t mean you have to give each child a third of your estate. There are some things to consider here.

Maybe one child has been involved in the family business his/her entire life while the other children pursued other career options. You might want to leave that child a significant portion or all of the family business since they invested so much time and effort into it. Maybe one of your children has a history of substance abuse. You probably wouldn’t want to leave that person a signifiant portion of your estate. So equal shares among children is not always best. Sometimes it’s best to be fair to those who have been more responsible over the years.

Once you determine if you’re going to be fair or equal, you just need to determine who is going to administer those wishes for you. Who can you trust that will not be impartial to one beneficiary over the other? Who is the most likely to do things the way you want so that you can prevent a family feud? You have the power to choose, but choose wisely !

Contact Us So We Can Help

If you have any questions about wills, trusts, or estate planning give us a call at (229) 226-8183. We’ll be happy to help you with any aspects of elder care or estate planning.

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