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Help Keep the Peace Over Your Estate: 9 Tips

04/20/2023 - Planning for Retirement

Family discussing documents while sitting in the living room together.

Use These 9 Tips in Your Estate Planning to Avoid Family Conflict

Even if your family isn’t prone to fighting, battles over inheritance could be brought on by the heightened emotions at the time of your death. These nine tips can help. Learn how to work with an attorney to draft a will or trust while preparing your family to accept the terms of your estate plan with minimal drama.

1. Start Planning Early

Deciding who will inherit your estate and your valuable possessions is a big deal that should not wait until the last minute. You may plan to live well into your 90s in good health, but there is no way to predict when your final days will come. It is important that your end-of-life planning be done while you are still strong and healthy to draft and sign your estate plan.

2. Inventory and Group Your Assets

Create a list of all your assets and group them into two categories based on the type of value they have: monetary or sentimental. You might need to consult your financial advisor to get the proper valuation of your investments and insurance policies. Getting an appraisal of any valuable items, like art or jewelry, would be the best way to assign an accurate value to them.

3. Speak With Each Child

Talk with your children about their individual expectations before drafting an estate plan. Find out what items are most important to each of them and what type of financial expectations they have. Speaking with each child separately will help you get the most honest feedback. With this information, you can determine where conflicts might arise (such as two people coveting the same item). You may need to have follow-up conversations with your children to find ways to work around those conflicts before you begin drafting your estate plan.

4. Clarify Status of Loans and Gifts

A typical area of conflict between siblings is the money you give them while you are alive. Sometimes parents are not clear about whether they are giving a gift or a loan when they give money to help with education expenses, a wedding, a down payment on a house, or other financial needs. Many times, though, children are keeping score. Think about the monetary gifts and loans you have given your children during your lifetime when considering how to divide your estate among them. If there are any outstanding loans, decide whether you expect them to be paid back to your estate or if they will be forgiven upon your death. Make your decisions clear to your children.

5. Consider Sentimental Items

When losing a parent, even adult children may cling to items with no monetary value at all. The emotional attachment your children have to your personal possessions could cause a greater conflict than you might expect. Decide now who will get which items and be sure to communicate that decision to your children. You may wish to consider the distribution of purely sentimental items separately from that of cash and items with monetary value if that helps you keep things balanced.

6. Work Around Joint Ownership

It can be tempting to leave items or property to your children jointly, but this could be a problem. It may be impractical for your children to share your favorite piece of artwork, for example. Are they really going to move it from one house to another at set intervals during the year? Leaving the family summer home to two or more people in joint ownership is a bit more practical but also fraught with potential conflict. It can be hard for adult siblings to share responsibilities like property maintenance. If your intention is that the home would be enjoyed equally by the whole family, consider alternatives to joint ownership so your children can clearly understand what they own.

7. Communicate Your Intentions

One of the best weapons you have against conflict, in all areas of life, is communication. Once you have figured out how you want your money and possessions distributed after you die and you have incorporated those directions in your estate plan, be sure to communicate your intentions to your children. When they understand your reasons for making certain decisions and they hear them directly from you, they may be less likely to quarrel.

8. Remain Flexible as Circumstances Change

Just because you decide how to divide your estate and put it all in writing doesn’t mean you can’t make changes. Circumstances, good and bad, could dictate a need for you to change your will. It is important to remain flexible and reevaluate your will periodically. Life events, such as a divorce, birth, or premature death in the family could require you to change your estate plan, as well as the acquisition or divestiture of significant property. Keep all your working documents to make change a bit easier when it comes.

9. Put Your Sentiments in Writing

A will is a legal document that directs the distribution of your estate; it is full of legal language and devoid of sentiment. Consider writing a letter to accompany your will that contains the sentiments you wish to convey to your loved ones at the time of your death. In the letter you can explain some of the choices you made in dividing your estate and make your final wishes clear. Understanding what is truly important to you, explained in your own words, could help your family avoid potential conflicts over your estate.

It is a good idea to start the estate planning process early since it will take some time to put your thoughts together, communicate with your family, and work with an attorney to create your estate planning documents. Talking with your family members about what they can expect from your estate may help ease some of the tension at the time of your death and prevent unwanted family drama.

Content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or financial advice. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of WesBanco.

While we hope you find this content useful, it is only intended to serve as a starting point. Your next step is to speak with a qualified, licensed professional who can provide advice tailored to your individual circumstances. Nothing in this article, nor in any associated resources, should be construed as financial or legal advice. Furthermore, while we have made good faith efforts to ensure that the information presented was correct as of the date the content was prepared, we are unable to guarantee that it remains accurate today.

Neither Strategy Academy nor its sponsoring partners make any warranties or representations as to the accuracy, applicability, completeness, or suitability for any particular purpose of the information contained herein. Strategy Academy and its sponsoring partners expressly disclaim any liability arising from the use or misuse of these materials and, by visiting this site, you agree to release Strategy Academy and its sponsoring partners from any such liability. Do not rely upon the information provided in this content when making decisions regarding financial or legal matters without first consulting with a qualified, licensed professional.

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