Critter Corner: How to Make Siblings Feel Equal in Estate Planning

Dear Angel,

Our adult children don’t get along very well. When we do estate planning, we want them to feel like they are equal, so more unnecessary strife does not occur when we are no longer around. What can we do to make them feel as equal as possible in our estate planning?

E. Kwull

Dear E. Kwull,

Here are some things you can keep in mind when doing your estate planning documents, in an effort to minimize additional conflict among your children:

1. Leave to children equally: Treat children equally. Unequal allocation can be seen as a showing of favoritism that will cause further resentment and hurt feelings. To avoid fighting, don’t penalize successful children by leaving more to their needy siblings, or conversely, reward successful children because they are favored. An exception to this general rule is for children who are disabled.

2. Be detailed about your plans for tangible personal property such as furniture and jewelryTaking the approach that “my children will figure all this out” without you providing detailed instructions in your estate plan may not lead to a harmonious distribution of your assets. While your children may not be satisfied with the choices you’ve made, they will be less likely to blame their siblings because they’ll know the allocations were what you wanted.

3. Update your estate plan regularly: Make estate planning changes when there has been a change of circumstances, especially after a divorce. Additionally, estate planning should be reviewed after other life changes, such as the death or divorce of a child or the illness, addiction, or incapacitation of any beneficiary. See today’s article for more details on why it’s so important to update your estate planning, especially when making verbal promises.

4. Include a letter to your children: This letter is not to say who gets what; that should be outlined in your legal documents. This letter is to tell your children you loved them and tried your best to be fair in the estate planning process. It can go a long way in reminding them to move past the fact that they didn’t get the clock they wanted from your estate. Remind them in this letter that family goes a lot deeper than possessions and that you hope they will remember that fact.

5. Consider putting someone who isn’t a family member in charge of the assets: Siblings need to understand that the role of executor should not automatically go to the oldest child; it’s about the best person to do the job. It’s often easier if the person resides in the state where the parents live.

Having a third party in charge (such as a law firm or trust company), even if they charge a fee, will eliminate the risk of creating more family disharmony. Everyone may end up being mad at the third party, but at least they are not mad at each other. That may be money well spent to preserve family unity.

6. Consider the next generation, potentially leaving something for the grandchildren, so the grandchildren will know that you were thinking of them.

By using some of the recommendations above when planning your estate, you will be more likely to protect your most important legacy — your family!

Hope this helps!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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