Estate planning is something that none of us should avoid. It's important to get your financial house in order before you pass on to the great bingo hall in the sky. Get a will prepared, make arrangements for your money that will minimize taxes, and you should be able to sleep better. But don't focus solely on the money involved.
Experienced estate lawyers Barry Fish and Les Kotzer have seen some ugly things in their practices, and they wrote a book in response: The Family Fight: Planning to Avoid It. They note that although money is often at the root of family squabbles when someone dies, these fights are also very often not about money. They may instead be based on sentiment and nostalgia, such as when siblings have different views on the fate of the family home or memorabilia.
Other fights revolve around slights that some members perceive, whether real or imagined. Perhaps dad paid for one child to go to college and the others didn't want to go. The non-attenders may end up resenting the fact that the attendee received money that they didn't.
So what can be done to prevent the rending of families? Here are some suggestions:
- Communication. Parents should discuss their plans with their children, so that there aren't any unpleasant surprises down the road.
- Be specific. Be clear about exactly which bank account goes to so-and-so and which stocks go to whom.
- Don't assume. Don't assume that one child wants to inherit the family business or house, when she may not.
- Be extra careful if there is more than one marriage involved. Respect the wishes and rights of all parties as much as possible (and communicate!).
Learn more about estate planning at EstatePlanningLinks.com (note that it's not entirely objective, but it's rather informative) and in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wills & Estates by Stephen Maple. Get answers to your estate planning questions on our Estate Planningdiscussion board.
Address your personal estate planning (or other financial) needs, read more about TMF Money Advisor. It's a valuable service we're offering, featuring affordable, personalized independent advice from a variety of objective financial pros -- and you can try it free right now.
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.