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Preventing Estate Planning Disputes Among Siblings

Preventing estate planning disputes among siblings

Summary: Even the most well-intentioned person can create rifts among their children, if their estate plan is not carefully crafted or their intentions communicated. To prevent sibling animosity, a parent should 1) select the right executor for their estate, 2) create an inventory of assets that will be distributed, and 3) have an honest and transparent conversation with their family. 

The purpose of an estate plan is to provide peace of mind to loved ones during a time of grief and stress. It is a means of protecting your assets and providing for your family members. However, even the most well-intentioned person can create rifts among their children, if their estate plan is not carefully crafted or their intentions communicated.

One problem that frequently arises during the inheritance process is animosity between siblings. This can be due to a lack of communication, confusion about financial responsibilities, skepticism about the parent’s estate planning process, or even disagreements about how certain property should be distributed or maintained. The list of potential pitfalls is a long one. However, there are some things a parent can do to help prevent future disputes between their adult children.

Select the Right Executor for Your Estate

An estate executor is an individual responsible for carrying out the instructions of another person’s will. They offer the will for probate, distribute property or charitable bequests to the designated beneficiaries, arrange payment of any estate debts, as well as calculate and file taxes. Many people select their executor based on personal relationships or family connections. While this perfectly fine to do, you also want to make sure that your executor has the required skill set for the job. An executor is supposed to act in good faith and avoid any conflicts of interest. To do that, he or she should be honest, careful, patient, organized, and a good communicator. They need to be comfortable handling disagreements, tempering emotions, and dealing with family dynamics. Selecting the right executor for you and your estate is an important first step in avoiding or addressing future conflicts between your children and other beneficiaries.

Create an Inventory of Your Finances and Other Assets

A well-crafted estate plan can help reduce family issues that arise during the estate planning and probate process. An inventory of financial and other assets can also be useful in heading off problems between siblings. A financial overview – a detailed list of what you own and where you own it – can serve as the foundation for you and your executor to communicate openly with your beneficiaries. Transparency and honesty can minimize skepticism. In creating your inventory or overview, be sure to include:

  • A list of all assets and liabilities, including how each item is titled and who the designated beneficiaries are
  • A list of non-financial items that you want to leave to your children
  • A list of all insurance policies and beneficiaries
  • A list of usernames and passwords for any websites or online accounts your beneficiaries may need to access
  • Contact information for all of the financial, insurance, and legal professionals you work with

Schedule a Family Meeting

Once you have selected your executor and completed your estate plan, the next step is to schedule a family meeting with your children and other family member beneficiaries. You should have an open and honest discussion about your estate intentions, including who you selected as your executor and why, as well as where your important documents are stored.

At this time, you might want to talk about non-financial legacy items that you want your children to inherit. These items could include jewelry, artwork, books, children’s toys, or other sentimental items. You can discuss which items will be distributed to the family members, and why. This can help avoid any future surprised or hurt feelings, as well as streamline the distribution process. Be sure to remind your beneficiaries about your intentions to keep things fair and that you’ve designed your estate plan to help keep the family together, rather than create any issues between siblings.

If you are not planning on leaving each family member the same amount of assets or property, it is a good idea to address this during the family meeting. Leaving different family members different amounts of money is not uncommon in estate planning. For example, a parent might want to leave more money to their child with the lowest income, or a family member might want to leave the majority of a business to the person who helps them operate it. Whatever the reason, you can avoid future issues between siblings by explaining your wishes and reasoning.

Have additional questions? Contact Siedentopf Law

In addition to the above items, hiring the right estate attorney can also help you avoid conflicts among family members and siblings. An experienced attorney can guide you through the planning process as well as give advice about probate and the distribution of assets. If you have additional questions about estate planning or preparing documents so as to avoid family conflicts, you can contact Atlanta, Georgia estate planning and probate law firm Siedentopf Law at (404) 736-6066 or schedule an appointment with us online.

© Sarah Siedentopf and Siedentopf Law, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Siedentopf Law and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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