Every family is different, and most have vulnerabilities that strain or even sever relationships. A parent may not trust a son- or daughter-in-law; siblings can fight every time they are in the same room; extended family members could be estranged.
These dynamics can cause conflict when someone passes away or becomes incapacitated. Parties can clash over decision-making or contest a will, making an already painful process more upsetting. That said, there are numerous estate planning tools you can utilize to minimize disputes.
Assign your own decision-makers
If you pass away, someone will need to act as the administrator of your estate. This person carries great responsibility for distributing your assets, paying debts and making decisions. You could also need someone to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf or serve as a conservator or guardian. You can utilize an estate plan to appoint people you trust to these positions.
If you do not assign powers of attorney, guardians or executors, the courts make these determinations for you, potentially resulting in someone you do not like or trust defining your legacy.
Be clear and thorough in your wishes
Whether you are creating a will or setting up a trust, being specific and direct can eliminate any contention or challenges from loved ones.
For instance, if you want to disinherit someone, state that you are doing so, rather than just excluding them. And if you have specific wishes regarding how your heirs use trust funds or property, consider putting tools in place that can accomplish this.
It can be helpful to have a letter of instruction as part of your estate plan. While it is not a binding document, a letter of instruction can provide the context and information missing from the legal paperwork.
Talk to your loved ones
Talking to your family directly can be the best way to eliminate confusion and provide straightforward instruction. You can explain why you are making specific decisions, answer their questions, and perhaps make changes to your estate plan based on their concerns.
Discussing your wishes for end-of-life care and estate distribution can be uncomfortable, especially when you have complicated relationships. However, doing so can allow you to protect your wishes and shield your loved ones from avoidable conflict and pain.