Think no one in your family will fight over your estate after you’ve died? Think again.  Here is Part 1 of warning signs that could lead to family disharmony and legal strife.

SIBLING RIVALRY.  Mom (or Dad) always liked you best.  Yeah, but Dad paid for your wedding.  Yeah but he paid for your college.  Yeah, but Mom bought you a new car. Yeah, but you got braces and I didn’t. etc. etc.

While you probably can do nothing to force your children play nicely together, you can help mitigate the effects by appointing a professional fiduciary to administer your estate or at least someone not associated with the rivalry.

 ADVANCING MONEY OR BENEFIT TO ONE HEIR BUT NOT OTHERS.  Did you help pay off a child’s college loan? Give a child start-up money for his new business venture? Put down-payment money on a child’s first home? Help bail a child out from credit card debt? Front the lawyer’s fee for a child’s divorce?

If it is your intention that these are indeed “advancements” meaning they are early gifts/part of their inheritance, then let the child know this up front and include clear language in your will or Trust to that effect so there can be no doubt as to your intent. If it is simply a gift to one that wasn’t similarly bestowed upon the others and there is to be no offset from the recipient’s final inheritance, there are probably going to be some bad feelings between the heirs after you are gone.

ECONOMIC DISPARITY AMONG BENEFICIARIES. Example:  parents leave their beloved vacation home to their children to share. One sibling is in need of cash and wants to sell the home; others want to keep it. This dispute resulted in a professional-and costly- mediation procedure, but could have also resulted in a forced sale of the property through an even costlier and adversarial partition suit.

And the more kids, the more possible problems.   And there is the issue of whether you should leave more to the one(s) who need it more or treat everyone the same regardless of need.

Try floating this idea by the kids and see how they react. Springing such uneven treatment on them via the Trust or Will after you are gone can cause issues.

APPOINTING C0-TRUSTTEES OR CO-PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES.  Often nothing gets done when 2 or more have to agree or sign off on some document.  There is a reason there’s only 1 CEO of Microsoft or 1 Manager of the Lightning. Action on an estate must be clear and timely. With 2 or more it slows down and even though those two can agree 99% of the time, that 1% can bring things to a grinding halt.

Name one person to be the Trustee or Personal Representative and then the others, in turn, as successor PRs or Trustees if something happens to the first-named. Alternatively, if you absolutely cannot choose just one, name a professional fiduciary to handle your estate.


(to be continued)