As estate litigators, we see far too often what happens when reason gets thrown out the window and disputes--big and small--tear families apart. Here are some practical tips that can be used to make an estate plan as well as tips for personal representatives to follow to try to avoid uncomfortable family dinners in the future.
(1.) When drawing up your Will, be reasonable in selecting a personal representative (formerly known as an executor) by carefully considering whether that person can do the job. Be reasonable about the expectations that you are placing upon this person in light of family dynamics. If your children have never gotten along during your lifetime, your death is not going to improve the chances of them getting along now. Your children will find new (read expensive) ways to argue and things to argue about. Remember, this is a job, not an honour. For example, don't assume that your eldest child is suitable for the job. Consider their capabilities in communication and their relationships with the other beneficiaries. If possible, pick a family member who is neutral or diplomatic. If that is not possible, consider someone outside of the family or a professional advisor. The last thing that you want to do is start out of the gate with a war between the personal representative and the beneficiaries, because things can only go downhill from there.
(2.) Be reasonable about the plan for your valued treasures and even those items you never knew people wanted. Who knew grandma's patchwork quilt was the item that all three of your children were going to desperately want after you die? Plan for these disputes and help your family be reasonable by giving them a system. Put a mechanism in your Will that tells the personal representative how these suddenly desirable items are to be divided among your beneficiaries, with a way to resolve those disputes. Maybe use a hockey style draft pick system. In round 1, children choose an item in birth order and in round 2 they reverse the order and so on. Or, everyone picks the items they want and if there is duplication, pulling a name out of a hat leads to a lucky recipient. These may seem like simple ideas, but it can be very difficult for your personal representative to come up with a way that everyone accepts to resolve these disputes. It is best if the plan comes from you and is set out in your Will.
(3.) One of the most common arguments among children is about what is "fair". Unfortunately, as...