Tips for ensuring that your estate plan won’t cause family squabbles

It's possible to make a will that reduces the likelihood of inter-family fighting.

The death of a loved one, be it a parent, sibling, spouse or another family member, is a difficult time. You're dealing with your grief and trying to settle all the matters associated with that, including funeral arrangements, paying bills, etc. Things only get more complicated when it comes to dealing with following the decedent's last wishes and probating his or her estate.

Following these tips can help you create a comprehensive estate plan that reduces the likelihood of a family squabble - and possible will contest - after you're gone.

Pick the right executor

The executor plays a key role in the disposition of assets and the implementation of your wishes after you're gone. Naming the best executor for your needs - and not just randomly picking your oldest child or your closest sibling - can make it easier for the family to accept directions and bequests. This might even be someone outside the family, as professional trustees and executors are great options to prevent resentment or fighting.

Don't forget to bequeath personal property

Perhaps just as important as large assets in an estate plan are smaller personal items like family heirlooms or treasured objects. Including a list of these such items, the preferred bequests and the rationale behind them may prevent squabbling and resentment. It's also possible to simply gift particular items while you're still here to mediate infighting. If all else fails, you should include in your will a clause to sell disputed items and split the proceeds if your heirs cannot agree.

Explain thoroughly

If you leave disproportionate amounts to different heirs, leave a thorough explanation as to why things were structured the way they were. It might be that one child is much more financially stable than another, for example. If that's the case, that child may need a monetary bequest much less than his or her siblings. Taking the time to explain the rationale behind unequal bequests can lessen arguments and possibly prevent will contests on the basis of undue influence.

Try not to place time-sensitive barriers to inheritance

Whenever possible, it is wise to not tie up funds for too long. Like it or not, impatience can breed contempt. If you make your heirs wait without a clear explanation as to why, there's a chance that resentment can grow, both amongst your heirs and at your legacy. That's something that nobody wants, so simply allowing the inheritance to pass quicker may be the best solution. This is not to say that you should allow minor children or spendthrifts access to their assets immediately without supervision, just that placing unnecessary time-sensitive constraints, particularly if they aren't identical among heirs, can lead to fighting.

Work with a skilled estate planning attorney

Estate planning should not be a "do it yourself" proposition. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you draft a comprehensive estate plan that both clearly communicates your wishes and reduces the likelihood of familial infighting.