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Disagreements among heirs, particularly regarding inheriting your estate, can change and intensify when you die. Upon one’s passing, underlying issues can arise that create tension over your estate and even possibly tear your family apart.

Even if your children get along well, the distribution of your assets can strain family bonds and require conflict resolution skills. It’s important to anticipate and address potential conflicts in order to maintain harmonious family relationships during the settling of your estate.

Is Equitable Distribution Always Appropriate?

When you are making decisions about how to leave your property to your children, the clearest choice is often to divide everything into equal shares. This may prove pretty straightforward when all your children are doing equally well.

However, what if your daughter is an aspiring artist with mouths to feed and your son is a successful tech entrepreneur with no spouse or children? While it may seem fair to provide more support to the struggling child, this approach can breed resentment and hurt feelings among siblings. Favoring one child over another may cause sibling rivalry or hurt feelings among siblings. The last thing you want to do is leave behind an environment full of resentment that leads to strained family relationships.


Consider the Future

Even if your son has no children now, he may have them in the future. If you leave him nothing, both him and his future children will have nothing to keep your memory alive. Suppose your daughter’s artistic career takes off and she has additional children later?

Anyone’s family or financial situation can change suddenly. Consider the following:

  • Health crises or natural disasters can strike unexpectedly and cause financial strain
  • Marriage often boosts income and property, but divorce divides assets apart
  • Investment decisions may succeed or fail
  • Assets can grow or diminish completely
  • Economic shifts can affect cash flow and the availability of credit

Hopefully, misfortune doesn’t befall your son, but you can still provide him with some financial cushion. If your daughter’s career takes off, she may not need the extra financial support you were willing to give.

Remember that Estate Plans Can Change

When you begin shaping your estate plan, you may consider a strategy that focuses on splitting up your assets equally. As time passes and your children’s lives change, you can always revisit your will or trust to make adjustments. There is no limit to the amount of times you can make adjustments.

You can even address specific financial scenarios and concerns in your estate planning documents that trigger leaving more to one child should something particular or unexpected happen. Your estate planning attorney can discuss with you different situations and how you might prepare for them.

Discuss Your Wishes Openly with Your Children

The easiest way to avoid future contention among family over your estate is to speak to your children directly. Manage their expectations about your estate plan and listen to their feedback. Unless you ask, you cannot know for sure what they might want to hold onto after you pass away. These family discussions need to include all heirs, because if one heir gets a say about what they inherit, it is only fair that the others should have input also.

If you still want to leave your daughter more than your son, sit down with both of your children and explain why you’re making this decision. Even if your son is unhappy about your decision, at least he would have less reason to blame your daughter later. Also, it could be that your son is agreeable and completely fine with your decision due to a big heart and being the more-advantaged child.

However, know that these discussions can still be challenging due to equal distribution not always being feasible based on the asset. Wealthier heirs may prefer sentimental items or family collections over cash due to potential tax implications, while less wealthy heirs may truly benefit from and desire additional funds.

Work With Your Estate Planning Attorney

Consult with your attorney to ensure you are tailoring your legacy plan to meet your needs. You want your plan to be unique to your circumstances and family dynamics, so it’s extremely important to avoid generic templates such as online legal forms. You should talk to your attorney to customize documents that actually suit your wishes and goals.

You may decide that you’d like your estate to be distributed unequally. You may wish to not discuss this with your heirs. If this is the case, consider including detailed language in your estate plan regarding how you came to your decisions. This can help your heirs better understand your goals, process and respect your decision, and reduce potential conflict and disagreements. Your estate planner can also communicate with your family about why being fair is not always the same as being equal.

Remember that even if your family is not prone to conflict, effectively managing heirs’ expectations and routinely reviewing and updating your estate plan can prevent a bitter legal battle that could potentially tear your family apart.

Due to their experience, estate planning attorneys also can prepare you for challenges that may not have happened yet or issues you may not have considered. With their professional advice and guidance, you can minimize disputes, confusion, frustration, and grief after you pass.

Bromlow Law, PLLC and Laura L. Bromlow, are dedicated to the practice of Elder Law and Estate Planning. Our practice focuses solely on working with clients in these and closely related legal fields. Laura L. Bromlow is a Certified Elder Law Attorney with the National Elder Law Foundation. Bromlow Law, PLLC strives to enhance communication among family members and loved ones and to keep them all out of conflict so they can stay out of court. We want to help you keep your close circle safe!

Please contact our office today at (281) 665-3807 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal matters. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you.

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