Few families exist without some sibling rivalry, jealousy or bad feelings that linger into adulthood, at least under the surface. One event that can bring those feelings to a boil is the death of a parent. It is not uncommon for families to dissolve into heated conflict during the division of a deceased loved one's assets, often leaving irreparable damage.
Interestingly, this does not only happen when the deceased leaves no will. In fact, a poorly prepared or vague estate plan may cause as much turmoil as leaving no plan at all. If you are ready to plan your estate but worry about how to avoid conflict among your heirs, you can take steps to divide your assets fairly.
Share your intentions
Perhaps the most common mistake people make when planning their estates is to keep their plans secret from their families. By revealing your intentions to your heirs, you may dispel some of the confusion over your decisions, especially if you intend to divide the assets unevenly. You also provide your heirs with a chance to ask questions and understand your point of view. This single step may prevent heirs from contesting your will on grounds that you were not of sound mind when you signed it.
Distributing your assets before you die is an option you may consider, especially for heirlooms or personal items. Some examples of ways to do this include the following:
- Give all heirs an equal amount of pretend money, and then allow them to go "shopping" through the estate. This may involve having certain items appraised and labeling each with a price.
- Distribute items at random to each heir and allow them to negotiate trades among themselves. To make this fair, you will have to group items so each heir receives an equal distribution.
- Hold a round robin in which each heir takes turns choosing assets from a prepared list of items. The heirs may assist by helping you list items of interest to them, and you can allow them to take the items immediately or wait until after your passing.
If these methods of distributing your belongings do not appeal to you, you can simply include a letter of explanation in your estate plan. This letter will tell your heirs the reasons why you divided your assets as you did and why one heir received a greater or smaller portion. When preparing this letter, as with any aspect of your estate plan, it is wise to seek the counsel of a skilled California legal professional who can help you avoid mistakes that could complicate probate for your loved ones.