Four Simple Ways to Prevent Conflict through Estate Planning

Grieving for the loss of a loved one is hard enough without enduring extra familial conflict surrounding the death.  The death of a loved one is an emotional time and can often rekindle old arguments and rivalries between family members, as well as start new arguments.  However, you can take steps right now to reduce the chance of conflict after you're gone and save your family unnecessary stress and hassle.

(1)  Use a Tangible Personal Property List.  I've talked about tangible personal property lists in before.  Make sure to use these lists, keep them with your Will, and make sure your Will references the list.  It's often items of sentimental value rather than monetary value that cause the most strife among heirs and beneficiaries.  If you want a certain relative to get a specific item of personal property, then write it down on this list, so that there can be no debate later on.  

(2)  Choose Proper Fiduciaries.  I can't overstate how important it is to choose the right fiduciaries in your estate planning.  Fiduciaries are people such as Personal Representatives (Executor) and Trustees.  They are the people who will be administering your estate and your trusts - the people carrying out your wishes.  Remember that being a fiduciary is a job and it's a lot of work.  Choose someone who is responsible, organized, and will communicate well with the rest of the family.  Many estate and probate conflicts arise from a simple lack of communication between the Personal Representative and the beneficiaries.  

(3)  Execute Your Estate Plan.  Many well-designed estate plans fail due to a lack of follow through.  If you have created a Trust, then make sure the items that are supposed to be in the trust are actually in the trust.  This doesn't happen automatically.  Titles need to be changed.  Otherwise, the Trustee will lack the authority to take action with respect to those items of property.  Likewise, if your estate plan anticipates items such as life insurance or retirement accounts passing to certain recipients, then you need to make sure that your beneficiary designations on those accounts are properly worded.  

(4)  Make Your Wishes Known.  Your estate plan does not have to be a secret from the rest of your family.  If you feel comfortable doing so, you can have a conversation with your beneficiaries and make your wishes known, so that they are prepared.  You can also write letters to accompany your Will or Trust.  Talk about your life, your values, and your relationships with your family.  This fourth tip won't necessarily be appropriate in all family circumstances, so you can judge your own situation and act accordingly.    

There are many more actions you can take to prevent conflict in your family after your death.  Each family has different dynamics and different circumstances.  However, taking these four simple steps will go a long way to reducing potential conflict and ensuring a smooth transition.