How Your Estate Plan Can Help Keep the Peace

Sibling rivalry is common among families. Parents often act as peacekeepers during their children’s early years and beyond. When it comes to losing a parent, the strong emotions children feel can cause disharmony even among the closest of siblings. Your estate plan can help keep the peace and minimize the for potential conflict after you pass away.

Communicate with your children in advance
When it comes to how you treat your children in your estate plan, there are two basic strategies. Some people treat their children equally. No matter the circumstances, each child receives the same amount as the others. In the most straightforward of family situations, an equal distribution to each of your children is also equitable. On the other hand, some people choose to treat their children equitably in their estate planning. This may lead to children receiving different amounts under the trust or will. While the amounts may not be equal, they are equitable. For example, if one of your children was a nationally ranked equestrian, you may have spent a substantial amount of money on this pursuit in relation to your other children. Or if one child has significant earnings as an adult, you may want to provide more financial support the others.

No matter if you choose an equal distribution plan or an equitable distribution plan, communication is key. Communicating your intentions with your adult children either during your lifetime or through a memorandum of intent included with your estate plan may help prevent disputes.

A word on no contest clauses
Although Florida does not allow them, many states will enforce a no-contest clause at least to some degree. This clause, also known as an in terrorem clause, voids a distribution to a beneficiary who challenges the will or trust. In the states that allow them, this may be an effective way to prevent a challenge to your estate plan. Recognized by your state or not, the clause expresses your wish against fighting among your beneficiaries after your death.

Anticipate and prevent forced sales
You may unintentionally cause a conflict among your children by assuming all your children have the same interest in a particular asset that would be difficult to divide without a sale. Typical examples of this scenario are a family business or family cabin. If only one child has a keen interest in the asset but can’t afford to buy out the other sibling’s interests, a forced sale of the asset and family conflict may be the unfortunate outcome.

Keep your plan up to date
Review and update your estate plan regularly. Because change is the only constant in life, it’s essential to keep your estate plan current with changes to your family. Births, deaths, estrangements, and divorces can all affect how you want to distribute your wealth. Make sure your estate plan continues to reflect your distribution wishes and the current makeup of your family to avoid potential conflict.

Take matters into your own hands
This measure may seem extreme, but you know your kids. If a dispute among your children seems likely or if you want the peace of mind that comes from doing all you can to squelch a dispute, take action now. One of the most common challenges to a will or trust is mental incompetence. An examination and report from a doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist from a time near to the signing of the will or trust may be persuasive enough to prevent a child from undertaking a challenge to your mental competence or, if made, at least refute it. Another strategy is to videotape the signing of a will or trust to again provide valuable evidence against any undue influence or mental incapacity.

Work with an estate planning attorney
Be up front with your estate planning attorney about any concerns you may have about potential family conflict. With this information available, your estate planning attorney can design an estate plan that promotes peace and harmony among your children.

Contact an Experienced Florida Estate Planning Attorney
For these peacekeeping ideas and more, work with our office so we can help design an estate plan that works best for you. Call our office at 321-804-2915 or fill out our contact form and we will be in touch to schedule a meeting.