The Bible makes it clear that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (see 1 Timothy 6:10). Unfortunately, this love of money can impact families at the worst time – following the death of a loved one. When families are supposed to be supporting and comforting each other, they sometimes pull apart. Whether the conflict is over an inexpensive possession such as an old lamp or over something valuable, families can be forever torn apart. I once had a family that was fighting over their mother’s old clothes – even though everyone agreed the clothes had no practical, monetary or even sentimental value.
Parents are sometimes reluctant to share that their children may not get along very well. While this is understandable, it is not helpful to ignore the problem and hope that by some miracle the children will put aside their differences in settling the estate. This can lead to unnecessary costs and delays while long standing disputes are played out in probate court.
Regardless of the size of the estate, it is important to recognize that a will or trust may not be enough. With careful planning however, it is possible to avoid family disputes. Depending on your situation, it may be advisable to:
- Leave instructions. If specific instructions are left regarding personal property, it is less likely there will be any disputes amongst the children over who gets what.
- Hire a professional. A disinterested person named as personal representative will not be a part of the family drama and can help avoid a dispute.
- Do tell. Don’t keep your decisions a secret from your children. Explaining what you are doing and why can help avoid any hard feelings or misunderstandings.
- No contest clause. If a child contests a will or trust, a no contest clause can result in the forfeiture of any bequests. This can be a powerful incentive in preventing such challenges.
It is very sad to watch children fight over their parents’ possessions. Fortunately, it may be preventable. Be sure to consult with an experienced elder law attorney to avoid such issues in your family.