Only You Can Prevent Feuds Between Your Children

Only You Can Prevent Feuds Between Your Children

By Alan G. Orlowsky, J.D., C.P.A.

Hank and Betty, both in their eighties, each named their two adult children as co-trustees of their trusts. Hank died, leaving a $2 million estate.

While Hank´s estate was still being administered, Betty died, leaving a $1.5 million estate. The two children, Bill and Diane (both in their fifties), feuded over every dime in both estates, causing long delays and costly legal fees.

Hank and Betty (we´re not using real names in this article) could have prevented that messy state of affairs by doing one of the following when they created their estate plan:

  • Name only the most competent of their children as trustee of their trusts, and explaining this decision to both of them so they would know what to expect
  • Appoint a corporate trustee, which would have administered their estates dispassionately and prevented feuds and hard feelings

Feuds between siblings are not rare when one or both parents pass away. They feud over who should be in charge of the estate, the amount of fees that the executor takes out of the estate for services, how to divide up their inheritance, how and when to sell or take possession of their parents´ real property or business interests, who´s taking advantage of whom, who´s being greedy, and who´s being left out of the decision-making process. Sometimes they will use the occasion of a parent´s unfortunate death to perpetuate ancient sibling rivalries, even if it becomes very costly and is contrary to their best interests. Welcome to real life.

By taking a few simple precautions now, you can prevent – or at least minimize – feuding between your adult children. Here are the most important precautions:

  • Meet with your children, either individually or in a group, and describe your estate plan to them. This includes your will, trusts, powers of attorney, and health care directives. If they have questions or concerns about equality or fairness, they can raise them now. You can explain your intentions, or revise your estate plan to accommodate their legitimate needs.
  • If you’ve selected only one of your children to be executor, trustee, beneficiary, or attorney-in-fact (in the power of attorney) – or if you´ve named a corporate trustee or designated a charity as beneficiary, for example – then explain your decisions and reasons. If you don´t, and your reasons are misconstrued, there may be resentment or even hostility toward you, as well as among your children, after your death.
  • Although money is still taboo in some households, tell your children as much as you feel comfortable telling them about your assets, income, net worth, and debts. Give them the names and contact information for your attorney, financial advisers, and business partners. Show them where your assets are located and how they are titled. Then there will be no surprises, and they´ll be prepared to take the necessary action to manage your estate when the time comes.

Having such discussions with your children will help teach them the right way to relate to their children.

If you are uncomfortable discussing any of these topics with your children, ask your lawyer or other adviser to meet with them. Even if your relationships with your children are somewhat strained, they are still your children, and you undoubtedly want to save them from undue stress and heartache. Also, the discussions you have with them now can go a long way toward mending those relationships so that you can enjoy your family in your remaining years – that´s what it´s all about. So don´t wait until you are dying to speak up. Do it now.

About the Author

Alan G. Orlowsky, President of Orlowsky & Wilson, Ltd. in Lincolnshire, Illinois, has been counseling people on estate planning for over 30 years. He previously worked for the IRS in its Estate and Gift Tax Division. He also worked for the Deloitte & Touche accounting firm, and he has taught taxation and accounting at Loyola University of Chicago, School of Business.

Al is a contributing author of the book 21st Century Wealth (Esperti Peterson Institute, Denver, 2000), and has written numerous articles on the subject of estate planning. Contact Alan Orlowsky by email or call 847-325-5559.

Updated September, 2019

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