3 Helpful Steps for Avoiding Family Disputes

The last thing you want to think about when creating your will or estate plan is a potential argument amongst your heirs. But, unfortunately it does happen and when it comes to money and assets. Clearer heads don’t always prevail. The good news is, with proper planning and some time and effort on your part, you can lessen the likelihood that your family will fight (and stress) over your estate.

Step 1. Be Specific About Your Plans and Wishes

One of the greatest causes for disputes over wills and trust stems from a lack of detail and clarity in the content of the documents. You must be vigilant about filling out your estate documents as completely and with as many specifics as possible.

  • Every beneficiary should have contact information whenever possible, not just their name and birthday.
  • Every asset should be clearly described – and if possible you can even include pictures to make identification of certain items even easier.
  • Any unique requests and wishes you’d like honored should be very clear and include who you’d like to honor them (the executor or otherwise) as well as any details about timing or how & when the wish should be carried out (like your ashes being distributed, for example).

Step 2. Eliminate Surprises & Communicate Your Desires While You’re Still Living

Besides a lack of detail, unexpected surprises can feel deeply unpleasant to an unsuspecting person, especially to a grieving heir. Any time you’re planning to include something unique or perhaps a little controversial in your will, you should make a point of discussing it with loved ones in person.

Only you know the unique challenges your family may face. Whether it’s a matter of not everyone getting along or someone feeling entitled to a particular piece, try to head off issues before they arise by communicating your desires to all the affected parties well in advance. Sometimes people need to hear it from the source or simply need an opportunity to ask their burning questions and gain understanding or perspective. By allowing them the opportunity to talk with you directly, you may save the rest of your friends and family grief and prevent any potential challenges to provisions of your will.

Step 3. Designate an Executor You Trust

While the primary concern is always that you yourself trust the designated executor, it helps prevent conflict when the heirs also trust that person. Ideally you’ll be able to assign an executor (or executors) that you trust and that your loved ones also trust to honor your wishes and see to it that your affairs are handled efficiently.

This is why sometimes it’s best to assign that role to a neutral party, someone who isn’t an heir and has nothing to gain by manipulating the contents of your will. If they don’t stand to benefit from it, they may be viewed as a more impartial person. This won’t necessarily stop people from quarreling over the details of your will, but it can ease tension and prevent people feeling slighted or anxious that your wishes won’t be honored.

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