The heirs of the deceased have the right to file a dispute over wills they believe are unfair. However, even when the filer of the claims gets the result they want, the aftereffects of these legal battles can be long-lasting. According to a survey conducted by Seddons Solicitors, disputes of wills result in familial estrangement approximately 30% of the time. Even amongst the other 70% of instances that do not result in complete estrangement, will disputes could end in ugliness and hurt feelings.
A will is one of our primary ways of ensuring that our loved ones are cared for after our death. However, in some cases, conflicts over inheritance can result in the exact opposite. For that reason, many parents want to learn more about the actions they can take to avoid family disputes over their will.
How Parents Can Avoid Sibling Disputes Over Inheritance
As a parent, the last thing you would wish is any disagreements between your children regarding your estate. Losing a parent is one of the most painful times in most peoples’ lives, and disputes with siblings over inheritance only add to the grief and stress. To avoid ill feelings in your family after your death, consider the following options to clarify the division of your property and assets.
Clearly Outline Wishes in Your Will
Making a will that clearly expresses your wishes for the inheritance of your property and assets will make challenging or disputing the will difficult (if not impossible). A will is a legally binding document, meaning it is highly unlikely for your heirs to successfully challenge your wishes unless they have a strong legal basis. However, if you are ambiguous regarding the division of your estate, the indecision could result in ill feelings and a potential legal battle. If you are unsure if there is any ambiguity in your will, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney.
Explain Disparities in Inheritance and/or Disinheritance
The most common causes of children disputing their parents’ will are disinheritance and unequal inheritance. Writing an explanatory will in which you explain why you have disinherited one or more of your children will make it difficult for them to take their dispute to court. Additionally, if one of your children has inherited more of your estate than their siblings, explaining why in your explanatory letter may be a good idea. For example, if one of your children completely devoted themselves to caring for you in your later years, you may feel they deserve a larger portion of the estate. If you do not clearly explain this to your other children, however, they may argue that you were not in a sound state of mind when writing the will.
Appoint an Independent Fiduciary
Another option is to appoint an independent fiduciary to act as the executor or trustee of your estate. This independent actor will make the decisions on dividing your assets amongst your children. However, if your children do not all agree on the appointment of your estate’s independent fiduciary, they could argue that the fiduciary unfairly favors one of their siblings and try to contest the appointment. This option also necessitates the payment of the professional, which could reduce the total amount of the estate.
With more complicated estates involving multiple properties, convoluted trusts, or businesses, there may be no way to share your estate equally. If there is no way to satisfactorily divide your estate amongst your children, another option is to liquidate (or financially consolidate) your assets. By selling your assets, your children can equally split the proceeds, lessening the likelihood of debate over the division of assets. However, this is only an option if there is no sentimental value attached to the property (i.e., a family home).
Hire a Mediator
In some cases, even if a parent is clear about their wishes for their estate, there still may be disputes among their children regarding the will. If your children are still conflicted over your will, they may choose to hire a mediator to preside over these disputes and come to a satisfactory resolution. While this outcome may not be what you wish, it can still help your children to preserve their relationships with their siblings following your death. However, taking the above actions can go a long way toward avoiding this step.
How To Divvy Up Minor and Household Items
Besides your large properties and assets, you likely have other possessions you would like to bequeath to your children. These possessions, while not financially significant, may hold great sentimental value. However, because they are more numerous, you may not wish or be able to detail them in your will. Therefore, you should plan ahead for how you would like to distribute minor and household items to your children.
Distribute Gifts During Your Lifetime
You do not have to wait until your death to gift your children with your possessions. Many parents gift sentimental objects to their children throughout their lives. For example, you might give them holiday ornaments, wedding dresses, photo albums, scrapbooks, or other sentimental memorabilia at appropriate times throughout their lives. The benefit of taking this approach is that, by acting preemptively, you will not have to make a plan for the inheritance of these possessions. Once your children have these possessions, it is unlikely that their siblings will be able to recover them in a dispute. However, a gift tax may apply unless these gifts are worth less than $17,000.
Discuss Preferences With Your Children
You may also choose to be more direct with your children and ask them which of your belongings they would like to inherit. Some parents choose to have their children “tag” (or, less formally, claim) items they are interested in. You may find that while one child is more interested in inheriting your jewelry, another is more interested in your family’s holiday decorations. You may allow your children to take turns choosing items or use a lottery-based system. The benefit of this approach is that you and your children are able to discuss who will be the best caretakers for the items in question, ensuring your sentimental possessions go to the child who wants them most.
Finally, you can explain how you would like your children to divide your minor and household possessions in an explanatory letter. Writing an explanatory letter to your will can clarify many things, including the inheritance of minor and household possessions. While you may not detail every object, you can explain what category of object you’d like each child to inherit or how your children should divide them by percentage (for example, you may state that you prefer your children to divide family photographs amongst them). While an explanatory letter is not legally binding, it can still clarify your wishes to your children.
Can an Estate Planning Attorney Help?
Absolutely! An estate planning attorney can help you write a will that avoids family disputes over a will and help you clarify your plans for your estate. Hiring an estate planning attorney is one of the surest ways of preventing family conflicts or disputes of the will. They will ensure that you leave behind a legally valid will that conveys your wishes for the property of your property and assets.
There are many estate planning attorneys in your area who can help you make arrangements for your children’s inheritance. To choose the right one for you, you should schedule an initial consultation to explore your options. To find an experienced estate planning attorney near you, use Expertise.com’s free-to-use database of estate planning lawyers.
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