Of course making proactive decisions about family assets and treasured belongings is challenging, but lawyers encourage as much specificity as possible when making a will. Reliance on “the kids” to work things out “later” can add to the stress during grief, and can lead to conflict—even in close families. Here are some examples of mistakes to avoid.
What About The House?
For many families, a home is the most valuable asset. That explains why figuring out what to do with it—and what constitutes “fair,” is a common source of conflict among adult children, as Alice Choi of Novick & Associates explains in HUFFPOST:
“If you have a house and you want to sell the estate assets, obviously some kids will be like, ‘No, it should remain in the family. I don’t want to sell. How much should it sell for?’ Whether you should prep the house before it sells. Little disagreements that inevitably turn into family in-fighting and there are going to be two sides and two factions. Not everybody gets along and all those things come out…Let’s say one person wants to purchase the house, or one person does all the work, other people don’t do anything and everybody gets commission. It’s a sore spot. Things that happen during the administration of their [loved one’s] estate are the things that happen throughout their lifetime that are repeating themselves.”
In addition to laying out options for how to pass on the family home, legal experts share that sometimes writing a “letter of intent” to accompany a will or trust turns out to be helpful to families. As Frank and Kraft say: “This is a document that allows you to provide relevant information to beneficiaries that is not included elsewhere in your plan. Although it is not a legally binding document, it can provide you with the ability to explain decisions you made elsewhere in your estate plan. In essence, this lets you explain things after the fact instead of while you are here which can help prevent discord or litigation.” Of course if you have the luxury of time to talk with family members about estate plans, that’s the best way to ensure your affairs are in order, and that your loved ones won’t ultimately have to take on detective duties while grieving.
Who Loves What?
Another common mistake that occurs during estate planning is the failure to be specific about belongings—and underestimating the sentimental value they might hold. As Carmen Rosas, an estate planning attorney based in California explains:
Sometimes people are like, ‘To all my kids, an equal share.’…They are like, ‘My kids will figure things out, they all get along.’ When people pass away, relationships change. Money can change people. Your children that got along so well when you were alive may not get along as well when you are gone and not there to dictate who’s right, who’s wrong or be the mediator between them all… If there is something that has lots of sentimental value, that’s the thing people fight about the most. They’ll say it’s money, but it’s really more sentimental things. People are processing their emotions with those sentimental things. If they regret not spending more time with somebody, they want all of the things, or every single memory or picture that they can get their hands on. If you know somebody wants something, just put it down. It will make it so much easier.
When a will is created, a family member or close friend is typically designated to administer the estate on behalf of the testator (person who created the will). Generally, this administrator is referred to as an executor. This is not a ceremonial duty. Executors have long to-do lists, so try to designate someone who can commit the time, and arm your designee with as much information about your accounts, passwords and other pertinent information as possible.
An executor has a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of the estate and beneficiaries.That’s why executor bonds can be reassuring to everyone involved. Sometimes these bonds are specifically requested during probate. Essentially, an executor bond guarantees the faithful performance of the executor in accordance with the law. Colonial Surety Company makes it quick and easy to get an executor bond: get a quote online, fill in the information and enter a payment method. The bond can then be e-filed or printed from anywhere—even before leaving court.
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