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Relationships are complicated. Familial relationships can be more so complicated than any other relationship. Conflicts can arise between spouses, siblings, generations, and in-laws. Intra-family conflicts can occur where a family member is favored over others or is perceived to be favored over others. A conflict can also occur where a family member who is named as a fiduciary has personal interests that differ from the interests of other beneficiaries. Conflicts can also arise with the distribution of the assets of an Estate, especially where a family member is receiving a sizeable amount more than others or where certain assets have sentimental value to multiple family members.
When such conflicts arise, it is not uncommon for the contentious family members to hire legal counsel and thereafter bring the conflict into the courtroom. Litigation can be extremely expensive and said expense will ultimately be accounted for by the assets of the Estate, thereby reducing the value of the assets that the Decedent spent their entire life accumulating to take care of their family after their passing. Litigation may not be avoidable in all circumstances, but there are certainly steps you can take to attempt to avoid litigation between family members after your passing.
There are four steps you may take to best avoid conflict in the family after you are no longer here to mitigate said conflict. The four steps are as follows:
- Identify what potential problems may arise within the family once you are gone. The potential problems that you identify should be relayed to your attorney so that he or she may draft your estate planning documents to manage or avoid the potential conflicts identified.
- Know your assets and their importance. Ascertain the relative importance and value that each family member places on your assets, especially for your tangible personal property or business(es). Your estate planning documents can be tailored to account for the distribution of assets to certain family members who may value said assets more than others. Also, you can give the tangible personal property away to family members while you are still alive. Furthermore, if you identify certain assets that may cause conflict post-mortem, you can plan ahead and sell the asset prior to passing so that it is no longer an item of potential conflict.
- Communicate with your family. Keeping your estate plan a secret from family members is rarely a good idea and can cause family members to feel isolated, which can ultimately lead to conflict. Your family is more likely to accept your estate planning decisions when they have been informed by you personally, and not solely by a document left after your passing. You can personally explain to them why you have made your decisions, which may be absent from the estate planning document(s).
- Encourage your nominated fiduciary to seek qualified legal counsel. Potential conflicts can sometimes be avoidable or easily resolved by the fiduciary with careful and experienced guidance from qualified legal counsel.
While you can never guarantee that conflicts will not arise after you are gone, it is always wise to do your best to minimize any intra-family conflicts that may pop up after you are no longer around to resolve them.
Joshua R. Berzak
Russo Law Group, P.C.
100 Quentin Roosevelt Blvd., Suite 102
Garden City, NY 11530