We all love our children. However, just because you love your children and get along with them does not mean you can assume that they will love each other or get along with each other in the same way. The reality is that when there is money on the table, family history and love can easily be thrown away. The relationships between children should be examined when making an estate plan.
This is the most common source of family fighting over an estate plan. Siblings not getting along with each other can be disastrous to an estate plan. Estate litigation can cost a significant amount of the estate, and everyone loses except for the attorneys involved. Estate litigation can also cause significant delays—years or more—in the distribution of assets to potential heirs.
The best way to prevent family fighting over an estate plan is to examine family dynamics between parents and children and between children and children when making a plan. Ask your estate planning attorney if your plan might create any contention between children, and what steps can prevent this. Talk with children ahead of time to work out any family differences while you are still alive; it is too late after you are gone.
If you insist on making a divisive estate plan that includes uneven inheritances for children, it’s important to safeguard yourself by making sure your estate plan is executed properly and telling the children in advance in written form so there is a record and no surprises later on. Your children will be put into a situation that they most likely have been in before, fighting with brothers and sisters over possessions and money, but never with this much on the line. When the stakes are increased, all bets are off and nothing is out of bounds. Fighting dirty and name calling will most likely be used and this can result in permanent damage to the entire family for generations to come.
It is better to try to keep the family together through proper planning than to stage a battle that will not end in a good way. Lessons can be learned from the struggles of other families in similar situations that thought their family was different and the usual rules did not apply to them. It is better to take precautions than to be sorry later on at the high cost of a family.
TO THE EXTENT THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS TAX MATTERS, IT IS NOT INTENDED NOR TO BE USED AND CANNOT BE USED BY A TAXPAYER FOR THE PURPOSE OF AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED ON THE TAXPAYER, ACCORDING TO CIRCULAR 230.
RANDALL A. DENHA, J.D,, LL.M., principal and founder of the law firm of Denha & Associates, PLLC with offices in Birmingham, MI and West Bloomfield, MI, attended Wayne State University and graduated with a degree in Corporate Finance. Mr. Denha obtained his law degree at the University of Detroit School of Law, and then completed a master’s in law (LL.M.) at the University of Miami School of Law, regarded as the premier school in the country for its program in estate planning. Throughout his career, he continues to lecture extensively for many local groups, including the AICPA, State Bar of Michigan, Michigan State Medical Society, Detroit Medical Society, UBS Financial, and Sigma Financial. Denha is frequently called upon by both local and state publications to render an opinion or provide insight into planning techniques, has hosted a radio program, and has authored many articles in the estate planning arena on the importance of planning. Additionally, he is a national network attorney for the state of Michigan for UBS Financial and a former adjunct Professor at Oakland University’s Personal Financial Planning Program where he taught estate planning for those wishing to obtain a Certified Financial Planning (CFP) degree. Denha serves as General Counsel for both local and national organizations, is a former member of the Bank of Michigan’s Board of Directors, and volunteers his time to several community organizations. He is recognized as a “Super Lawyer” by Michigan Super Lawyers in the areas of Trusts and Estates; a “Top Lawyer” by D Business Magazine in the areas of Estate Planning; and a New York Times Top Attorney in Michigan. Denha can be reached at (248) 265-4100 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.