Planning Your Estate When You Have Strained Family Relationships

Fighting over an inheritance may seem overdramatized on TV and in movies, but it happens in real life more often than you think. Siblings disputing their share, children from illicit relationships challenging their exclusion, ex-spouses demanding inheritance, and so on–these can very well happen in your own family, especially if you belong in one that is complex and involves many strained relationships.

If are worried that your family will fight over your estate after you’re gone, then your hunch is probably right. To protect your estate and ensure that your assets will go to those deserving, heed these important estate planning tips, especially if the relationships within your family is not so great:

1. Consult With An Estate Attorney

No matter where you are in life, it’s best to start planning your estate as early as now. Estate planning is best done with an experienced lawyer that specialized in this area of law. They can guide you through the entire process and direct you to the resources that you need to plan your estate. Moreover, they can help you prepare for possible disputes whether or not the chance of your family fighting over your estate is high.

If you can pinpoint particular reasons that can lead to your will being disputed in the future, bring them to your attorney’s attention. For example, if you have an estranged or disinherited child that may dispute their exclusion from your will, your attorney can help you take the necessary steps to ensure that they cannot contest your will—or will have a low chance of winning the case even if they manage to do so.

2. Appoint Only One Executor

It may make sense to appoint more than one executor to help ensure that the first one won’t be overwhelmed by the responsibilities that will be put upon them when you pass, but this may not be a good idea if there is long-standing conflict within the family. Having more than one executor for your will can lead to issues that prolong the distribution of your assets, which may cause some — if not all — of your beneficiaries to receive their share late, if they receive it at all.

Hence, appoint only one executor or trustee to make decisions for your estate after you pass. If you don’t fully trust anyone in your family to do right by your will, ask your attorney about appointing someone outside of your family, such as a trusted friend or your lawyer.

3. Update Your Will Regularly

In general, it is recommended to update your will after every major event in your life, such as birth, marriage, death, or divorce. But if your family disagrees with each other more than they get along, you may want to update your will more often to ensure that your estate goes to those deserving.

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4. Make Your Decisions Known

While this may not be easy to do, it is often necessary to avoid fighting within the family after you are gone.

As much as possible, make your wishes known to your beneficiaries. If a child is getting a smaller share than their siblings, or if someone is receiving a family heirloom instead of the person expecting to get it after you pass, tell them the reasons why. Your family doesn’t have to agree with your decisions (and they will most likely have unpleasant reactions if your relationships are strained in the first place), but having them know your reasons will help them understand that these decisions were not made by mistake.

5. Indicate Advanced Inheritance

You may want to help out a beneficiary financially by giving them part or all of their inheritance in advance, but keep in mind that doing this may cause arguments during probate among beneficiaries that don’t get the same benefit. It doesn’t automatically mean that they are greedy, but seeing someone else receive something that they don’t can cause confusion, hurt, and even feelings of betrayal.

To avoid this kind of dispute, make it clear in your trust that the beneficiary or eventual heir that you helped out has received their gift as an advancement of their inheritance. More importantly, ensure that that beneficiary is fully aware that the money or assets they have received are taken out of their future inheritance.

Planning your estate is not a particularly joyous endeavor, but it is necessary to ensure that your assets go to where they should be after your death. If your family doesn’t have the best dynamic, take note of these tips to avoid the disputes that are likely to happen when you pass away.