A typical estate plan is a disposition document: it tells us who gets what and when. But too often the estate plan ignores the human side of what takes place after a death in the family, leading to family discord and lasting division.
For instance, who will the trustee be? Will it be a fellow family member who will have to interact with other family members over the estate? Trustees sometimes have to say no, and a family member may get accused of holding out or taking too long. Often a family member is not the best choice for a trustee. A neutral third party may be preferable.
In “Resting in Pieces: Why Family Harmony is a Frequent Casualty of Estate Plans” in the February 2020 edition of The Journal of the Kansas Bar Association, Tim O’Sullivan notes that when there are multiple children and one serves as a fiduciary, there is a 1/3 to 40% greater likelihood of family discord.
Causes of family discord
Part of that discord is often purely the result of the fact that the child may not be equipped to serve. Or it may be that the elevation of one child as “trustee” brings out old wounds of who the favored child really was.
Nor does it work to appoint the children as co-trustees. Now they must all agree on even the smallest issues.
And the work of serving as a fiduciary takes time and expense. Rarely is that time and expense an equal burden. A school teacher compared to a corporate executive may bear the cost very differently.
These are just a few examples of how estate plans can create needless family conflict.
On the other hand, there are simple ways of reducing the potential for discord, such as creating a list for the disposition of personal property.
Ask your lawyer preparing your plan if they are taking into account these kinds of family harmony issues. For the sake of lasting family relationships, your estate plan can serve as a compass or a hammer.
Photo by Moritz Mentges on Unsplash
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Published June 10, 2020
Topics: Estate Planning