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Five Ways to Keep Your Kids from Fighting Over Your Will

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You’ve heard about it and read about it. Maybe you’ve experienced it firsthand. It’s the terrible pain and the damaged relationships that can occur when adult siblings go to war over Mom or Dad’s estate.

Like you, we’ve heard of cases where siblings who got along fine when the parents were living gradually become litigious adversaries after the folks are gone. Often these cases end up in court, with brother suing sister. It’s not unusual to see once-solid relationships damaged beyond repair, to the point where siblings or their spouses end up never speaking to one another again.

Such an adversarial outcome is probably your worst nightmare. But according to a recent article we found on the website NextAvenue, this awful scenario is preventable. The article (click here to read it) lists five simple ways to prevent World War III in your family after you are gone. These suggestions are the very things we have advocated to thousands of our clients, and it’s satisfying to see our recommendations confirmed by other experts in the field of retirement planning.

As the article’s author, legal expert Patrick O’Brien puts it, “Squabbling among grown kids surrounding the death of parent is all too common because their mothers and fathers fail to take basic steps to minimize the upheaval.” And when you factor in the sense of entitlement that comes when one of the siblings or spouses has acted as Mom or Dad’s primary caregiver, the potential for family feuds is multiplied exponentially. Here is a quick summary of O’Brien’s five suggestions.

The first is one to which we give a hearty “Amen”: Communicate early and often. By talking openly with your kids about your wishes and getting their hopes and expectations out in the open, you can avoid a great deal of contention later. This doesn’t take the place of a well-executed will, of course, but it’s an important start.

Second, get input from your children. They may place a great deal of value on something you think is unimportant, or vice versa – a vase that belonged to Grandma or another keepsake they treasured as a child. You don’t have to base your final decision on their wishes, but it’s good to take them into account.

Third, be fair. This may involve something as unsentimental as getting important valuables appraised. And fairness is often in the eye of the beholder. But by discussing things openly and explaining your rationale clearly, your desire to treat your kids fairly will go a long way toward minimizing fights and squabbles later.

The fourth suggestion is to be detailed about your plans. As the article’s author contends, it’s not a good idea to assume that “your kids will figure it out after you’re gone.” Also, your clarity will mean your children won’t blame each other if they don’t get everything they wanted from your estate.

The final suggestion is also a good one: write a letter to your children explaining in personal and loving terms that you tried to be fair and equitable. This isn’t the document where you detail who gets what – that belongs in your will – but it may help defuse any lingering disappointment and help your kids move past their emotions.

Involving your family in your retirement planning is one of our pillars here at Aging Options. To find out how to do this, and also how to care for all the aspects of your retirement planning – housing, health, finances and legal affairs – come to one of our LifePlanning Seminars. These valuable sessions are free and are held in locations throughout the area. Click on the Upcoming Events tab for dates, times and online registration, or contact our office for further information. We’ll look forward to meeting you and helping you chart a course for a secure and well-planned retirement.

(originally reported at

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