Will may not be enough to avoid conflict
Before Mara Markzon’s grandmother died, she clearly and evenly divided her assets in her will.
But Markzon’s grandmother neglected to detail where some of her personal possessions — her books, her costume jewelry, her purses — should go. An argument about those sentimental items ensued, permanently dividing the family, said Markzon, a social worker in Chicago.
“Even in the best of situations, the death brings up emotions even if there aren’t problems going into the situation,” Markzon said.
Even with a will, emotions run high when a family member has just died and there is money to distribute. Now you’re combining two things that people have high emotional reactions to as part of life: death and money, said Kelley Scrocca, an estate planning attorney for Swier Law Firm, who recently worked in Illinois but now works remotely from Germany.
Nearly half of planning professionals agree that the No. 1 threat to estate planning is family conflict, according to a 2018 poll by TD Wealth.
A big part of the problem is lack of communication. Only
21% of people tell their family members what to expect in the will, leading to confusion. And most people expect to inherit more than $100,000, but receive less than that, according to Ameriprise Financial.
“Money can be a sensitive topic,” said Aliyyah Camp, publisher at the financial comparison site Finder. “When you add the complications of family relationships, it’s easy for issues to arise.”
One side of the family may think they’re owed more because they paid for their mother’s phone bill over the past few years, while the other side may say that they were promised a clock, but it wasn’t written in the will, said Scrocca, who described the estate planning profession as 60% law and 40% therapy.
Scrocca said she’s seen families ruin their relationships over $5,000. She’s also seen parents leave one child money with the understanding that that child would take care of the other siblings with special needs, but that money was quickly gambled away or taken by creditors.
“I’ve seen a sibling be named ‘executor,’ and then essentially squat in the house, not paying taxes or keeping it up, meanwhile the other siblings are stuck having to go to court to try to get the house sold so they can get their inheritance,” Scrocca said.
Camp said the best way to avoid inheritance arguments is to hold a meeting with the people affected by it. Whenever you make adjustments to the will, meet with everyone again, she said.
“It may be uncomfortable to discuss your will so early, but it’s better than leaving your loved ones confused or in disagreement later on,” she said.
When discussing the will, the distribution of money can be a touchy subject, especially if one person needs it more than the other.
Shlomo Slatkin, a licensed clinical professional counselor and a certified imago relationship therapist, suggested giving all children equal portions of the will, even if one child is in deeper financial need.
“Troubles happen when the distribution is imbalanced, or one person is written out of the will,” Slatkin said.
If a client decides to leave a child a greater percentage of the estate than the other child, it’s recommended that the client share this information soon after signing the documents, said Deborah Danger, a Massachusetts attorney.
Full disclosure creates an opportunity for children to ask the