Candor in discussing your estate plan can preserve family harmony

On behalf of Christine Alsop

In a recent article published in the Washington Post, it is noted that Sting, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett all have one thing in common. They do not intend to leave their children fabulous amounts of wealth that would be the envy of King Midas. The fear of some wealthy parents is that if their children inherit fantastic sums of money, they will not “make smart choices or live healthy, productive lives.” In the case of Gates and Buffett, huge amounts of their respective fortunes will be going to charities while more modest amounts will be bequeathed to their children and grandchildren.

Estate planning is not just for the wealthy and many of us have assets that we desire to leave at least a portion of to our children. The technical side of Missouri estate planning involves drafting legal instruments that will transfer our assets and personal property to loved ones after we pass. Another aspect of good estate planning pertains to how you break it to the kids what they will-and will not-be receiving when you pass.

In an article appearing in Forbes magazine it is noted that there are several potential sources of conflict among siblings which could be triggered by your estate-planning efforts. For example, conflict could arise if one child is chosen to be executor and his or her siblings take it as a personal slight not to have been named executor instead.

Another potential flash point for a family conflict might be the family summer vacation home. While the kids might wax nostalgic for the vacation home, leaving it to them jointly could sow the seeds of subsequent family discord. It is not inconceivable that disagreements could arise among siblings as to how to maintain the vacation home, or perhaps whether to rent it or even sell it.

Conversations magazine observes that perhaps the thorniest issue leading to family disharmony pertains to who will inherit particular family heirlooms whether it is Mom’s pearl necklace or Dad’s stamp and coin collections.

Talking to the kids about your estate plan

Forbes magazine advises that the most important thing to keep in mind in heading off family bickering after you pass is to avoid surprises. Being “upfront in your intentions,” by talking to your children about your estate plan, can preserve family harmony after you pass.

AARP offers several tips for preparing your children for what they can likely expect when you pass and-hopefully-diffuse any potential family disputes. First, call an informal family meeting or talk to each child individually and give everyone at least a general sense of what they stand to inherit. Remember, however, that estate planning is not a “democratic process” and your wishes should ultimately control. Second, treat your kids as equally as possible rather than playing favorites. Third, if there are reasons why there will be an unequal distribution, take the time to explain your rationale. Finally, do not leave assets to one child with the mere hope and expectation that he or she will divvy them up among the other children. If you desire that all of your children should inherit equally, simply make them all beneficiaries in your will.

Seek legal help

If you feel that you need to create an estate plan that will implement your desires as to how your assets and personality are passed to your loved ones, you should contact a Missouri attorney experienced in handling estate planning. An attorney will be glad to help you achieve your objectives.