Estate plans need some finesse to avoid future conficts

There have been many tales of celebrity estates and the families that squabble over them. From Prince to B.B. King, the stories are as large as they are tawdry.

The reality however is that celebrity estate battles differ from the ones in most families only in scale.

Holding estate planning documents such as a will or trust in hand after a loved one’s death can be a perplexing read, depending on who they are. Some of those named in the estate planning documents look for equality in how the assets are shared, some may think they should have more.

They may be disappointed, and possibly hurt, to see what appears to be unequal or unjust treatment in the estate. But it does happen.

If there is a family member who appears to be given more consideration than another, there is generally a good reason. Grown children can have needs that have developed through life including those with special needs. And parents may decide in their wisdom that one child “deserves” more simply “because.”

There are two important factors when deciding to craft an estate plan that treats grown children differently. First is the decision to proceed with doing it in the first place. The equal-split philosophy of estate planning is a long-standing tradition that many planners are urging clients to reconsider.

In some circumstances. the second factor is to inform all family members of how the assets will be disbursed in the estate plan. This is important to head off any conflicts down the road unless the disclosure will cause even more problems. It’s a way to ensure that all family members understand that this is your decision and it’s been done to ensure fairness to all.

You can also make clear how items of sentimental value should be dealt with, right down to who gets which items.

With the increasingly complex mix of second marriages, and children with financial needs and potential future cognitive declines, there can be simmering conflicts just waiting to find a context to bring them to an emotional boil.

Given that, naming an executor or trustee outside of the family circle may be a wise move. There are many options for finding an institutional executor or trustee and your lawyer can assist with that.