By taking the important step of creating an estate plan, you're ensuring that your assets will go to the family members and other beneficiaries you choose. You're also helping minimize the stress and expense for your family when it comes time to put your affairs in order.
However, many people unwittingly create a situation that will lead to family battles. You may think that would never happen to your family. However, money and other assets combined with feelings of unfair treatment can be a toxic mix that sometimes plays out in ugly court fights and leads to family estrangement. As one attorney notes, "People want to think everybody will be nice and do right. Human nature is not always that way."
As you create your estate plan, you can take steps to minimize the chances of legal challenges and just plain hard feelings among your loved ones. Let's discuss a few things you can do.
While you don't have to disclose all of your estate planning decisions to your family, it may be best to explain any that might disappoint or surprise your loved ones. Maybe you're leaving one child more than the others because they've helped care for you as you've gotten older. Perhaps you've given your kids plenty of financial support, and you'd rather leave the bulk of your wealth to your favorite charities.
By explaining your reasoning to your family, you show them that you're making these decisions willingly and with full understanding of what you're doing. You also clear up any questions that you won't be able to answer after you're gone.
Choosing an executor that everyone will agree can be fair is another big step toward avoiding conflict and resentment. Often, people choose their oldest or perhaps most reliable child. This can lead to concerns by that person's siblings that they aren't being fair -- even if they're only administering the estate as their loved one has designated.
It may be best to choose a friend or a corporate trustee to administer your estate. The latter will cost some money, but it may be worth the expense if it makes the estate administration proceed more quickly and with minimal conflict.
As you work with your estate planning attorney, they can advise you of other steps you can take to minimize conflicts and make the estate administration process easier for your loved ones.