At our recent Living Wisely educational luncheon, we discussed the subject of fostering a legacy of peace and harmony. A great wealth of information was shared by our panel of two attorneys and one private fiduciary. Here are the top takeaways we took from the panel discussion.
Choose your successor trustee and executor wisely
The role of successor trustee or executor carries great responsibilities. We may naturally lean toward naming children or other family members as our successor trustees and executors. Settling an estate can be stressful and bring old family wounds to the surface. This can result in a family not speaking to one another when the process is over. Many times, the trustee may be viewed as the “bad” person.
Additionally, the chosen family member may not be up for the job. Being a trustee or executor can be complicated and time consuming. Choosing a neutral person, such as a fiduciary or professional trustee, can ease family disputes during this time. It’s important to think this decision through and what effect it may have on the family.
Have a plan for personal property
It may be surprising to know that distributing possessions is often the most contentious part of settling an estate. Personal items like furniture, jewelry, and photographs can bring sentimental memories and values with them. Our panel suggested either devising a plan to fairly distribute your belongings or make a list of who gets what ahead of time. If necessary, take a picture of the item and write who is to receive it. Ask your children what they would want at your death, so you know what is important to each child. It was suggested that if you no longer need or want the item to give it away while you are still alive. This will allow you to see the family members enjoying it during your lifetime and eliminate future disputes.
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Take extra care with second marriages
The panel shared that naming the spouse of a second marriage as the successor trustee is rarely a good idea. It’s very common for children to litigate against a step-parent, especially a step-mother. The best thing to do at the parent’s death is to give the children of the first marriage something right away. If the surviving spouse needs the assets during their lifetime, a payout to the children can be achieved with life insurance.
Keeping assets separate during a second marriage is another way to diminish the possibility of disputes. Mixing “yours, mine and ours” together can lead to future quarrels.
A well thought out estate plan may cost more up front, but it can save more in the long run by reducing conflicts and hurt feelings in the family. If you can anticipate possible conflicts and develop ways within the documents to resolve them, your family will have a better chance to achieve peace after you are gone. At Blankinship & Foster, we help our clients talk through some of these issues so you can foster a peaceful, harmonious legacy. Sound planning takes extra time and consideration but is worth the effort. Contact us to discuss how we can help you.