As you make an estate plan, you hope that your heirs will not fight over your assets. That becomes your top priority. You have seen examples within your own family of rifts that grow between adult children when their parents pass away. You have seen those long, complicated court battles and the way that some children never really get back on good terms when it's all said and done.
You can't bear the thought of your children fighting and never becoming close again. You want them to enjoy the holidays together, to get to know each other's children and to stay in touch. As busy as life gets, you want them to try to stay close and enjoy each other's company. You never want your estate to be the catalyst that begins to push them apart.
How do you ensure that things go smoothly? Here are four tips:
1. Leave everyone the same amount
Make things equal. If you have $900,000 and three kids, give them all $300,000. Don't worry about who has more money or who needs the most financial help. If things are equal, they can't fight over an "unfair" distribution. Treat them all the same regardless of age, life choices or even your current relationship with each child.
2. If you don't make things equal, explain it carefully
Don't leave them guessing. Give them as much information as you can. For instance, perhaps one child has far more student debt than the others and you want to give them a bit extra to help pay it off. Talk to your kids in advance and explain your plan so they all know what you want and why.
3. Spell out your exact wishes
Don't leave any room for error. For instance, some people are tempted to make the eldest child the beneficiary who gets everything, with intentions that that child should then distribute the assets to their brothers and sisters. You trust them to do it fairly and promptly. No matter how trustworthy they seem, this leaves the door open for tension. Instead, make all heirs beneficiaries and make it very clear what they get.
4. Prioritize communication
Many disputes happen because heirs disagree about what you really wanted. They dispute the validity of the will even when you give them all of the details they need. The key is to communicate with them in advance. Manage their expectations. Explain your decisions. Ask for their input. If nothing is a surprise when they read the will, you did your job correctly.
As you work through this process, make sure you fully understand all of the legal steps you can take to minimize the odds of an estate dispute.