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Family conflict often causes more problems than tax rules

Fights over a loved one’s estate all too often overshadow a family’s ability to grieve their loss. In fact, family conflict is the biggest worry in estate planning today, according to recent survey of professionals at the Annual Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning. Nearly half of professionals surveyed who handle estate planning said this issue was even more important than tax reform and market volatility concerns.

To avoid future conflict over your estate, think carefully about the dynamics of your family. Are there individuals whose interests are naturally competing, such as a stepparent and stepchildren? Is a relationship between siblings already strained? These issues can cause serious conflict when people are forced to work together following a loss.

What can I do to ease the tension?

Losing a loved one is never easy, and there is only so much you can do to mitigate the pain your family will feel. But, when it comes to estate planning, there are a few ways to make the process easier and avoid conflict.

  • Create a separate document dealing with personal property: Personal property can hold a lot of sentimental value and is often a point of contention among surviving family members. By leaving a memorandum about personal property that you and your family cherish along with instructions for whom you wish to have it, future fights can be avoided.
  • Have conversations early on: Discussing what will happen when a loved one passes away is not a comfortable conversation for anyone. But, some situations call for input from the rest of the family. The family business, shared vacation home, or care for a child with a disability will be left in the hands of your family after you are gone, and their thoughts and feelings should be carefully considered.
  • Don’t play favorites: An easy way to avoid conflict among your children is to treat them equally in your estate. People are often especially sensitive about their parents playing favorites, although in some cases it may feel like the right thing to do.

Estate planning is a complicated and often emotionally-charged process, even when your family gets along. Putting thought into these issues and working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help smooth out the process and avoid conflict.

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    — Christine and Robert Simonson, Fairport
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    --David and Ajia Cherry, Fairport
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