Keeping the Peace -- Even After You Are Gone!

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It’s all fun and games until someone loses his/her inheritance.  Keeping the family peace after you are gone can be much easier when you pre-plan and communicate with your loved ones while you are still alive.  Many people choose to treat their children or possibly other family members unequally and generally have very sound reasons for this decision.  However, such unequal treatment, without explanation, can literally rip an otherwise tight family apart.  Even naming one child the executor over another child may cause family turmoil.  Of course, you won’t be around to experience the grief, but the work you performed in your Will could have devastating and long term effects: the jilted sibling no longer talks to the benefited sibling; the cousins don’t attend each other’s birthday parties; and future “family gatherings” indefinitely cease.  All because Sally got 5% more of your estate.  Even a nominal deviation among family members can set the wheels of family turmoil in motion. 


Everyone doesn’t have to be treated equally, but a simple explanation, outlined in your Will, as to why your middle child only gets 10% of your estate can go a long way toward keeping the family peace.  It can also prevent costly and lengthy challenges to the Will.  If you think, even for an instant, that a child or family member might not understand your Will’s provisions, then you should include a very clear and detailed explanation in your Will.  You should go beyond just saying that you recognize that you’re not treating everyone equally.  You should include specific details.  If you feel the reasoning is too personal or might hurt the child if you state the reason(s) in the Will, then you need to have a private conversation with that child.   The hurt he/she may feel after you are gone and the potential family strife that may develop may be avoided with such a conversation.   The conversation may also present an opportunity for your child/family member to take action to regain your trust.  It is not uncommon for a more accomplished child to receive less than his/her less accomplished sibling (s).  Although, the reasoning for this decision may appear obvious, an explanation helps to eliminate any residual concerns the child may have. 


The following suggestions may help you preserve post-death harmony:


qProvide your reasoning to a family member or close friend whom you know your children/family members respect.  They will be more likely to understand and accept your decisions when the explanation comes from a trusted source.

qMake sure that your Will is witnessed by someone who is neither related to you or benefits from your Will.

qIf there is any question as to your mental capacity at the time you are writing your Will, visit your medical doctor for assistance in documenting your capacity.  Not only will this help in a Will contest claiming ‘lack of capacity’, but it can also help with a claim of ‘undo influence’. 

qName a third party as the executor or trustee to take the pressure off of the family member who must follow the terms in your Will.


For more information on how to keep the peace in your estate planning documents please contact Reager & Adler, PC at 717-763-1383.


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Harrisburg Magazine Readers' Choice 2011