Be Careful When Drafting Your Will
We all know how important it is to have a will, but it’s equally important that your will not cause any additional grief or pain at an already emotionally-charged time. Here are a few tips for helping to reduce or eliminate hurt feelings or resentment:
1). Appoint the appropriate executor. Naming an executor based on an outdated notion of family hierarchy (the only male, the eldest child) or personal relationship (best friend, business partner) without considering the skills necessary to do the job can be a mistake. The person charged with settling your estate should be honest, organized, responsible, and ethical. If no one fits this description consider appointing a professional fiduciary or corporate trustee.
2). Don’t drag out the payout for too long. While it’s probably not a good idea to leave a large amount of many to someone who is too young or too irresponsible to handle it, tying the money up for the next few decades is also ill-advised. Some people employ a payout schedule based on age - a portion is paid out at 21, another at 26, and a final payment at age 30. Some heirs may see this as a vote of no confidence on the part of their parents.
3). Plan ahead for personal property distribution. Few things can pull a family apart the way a disagreement over a family “heirloom” can. A dispute over anything with sentimental or emotional attachment can lead to a fissure in the family that can never be repaired. Don’t be afraid to address this issue head-on. Ask your children what items are important and have meaning to them. Make a list and keep it with your will and other estate paperwork. Make sure all interested parties are aware of the list. You might also consider adding a clause to your will stating that any disputed items are to be sold and the money evenly divided or given to a charity.
4). Explain any unusual or unequal bequests. Here’s another area where an upfront and honest conversation can go a long way towards keeping harmony in the family after you’re gone. If you feel that leaving more to one child over another due to marital or financial status or because one child was more helpful or attentive, then you should share your thoughts with your kids. Hearing an explanation straight from the horse’s mouth can keep the kids from pointing fingers at one another later.
As always when discussing wills, be sure to consult your attorney to review your choices. Trust me, your kids will thank you.