While not a legal matter, when doing estate planning an important aspect is how your loved ones will react to your choices of Executor, health care agent, power of attorney, etc. The last thing most people want is for their children or other loved ones to fight or become hostile to one another when you become disabled or pass away.
How you structure your bequests is also important. Many clients have a situation where they want to leave more money to one child or other family member, because either they favor that person or because that child or family member is more needy. Treating family members differently in this respect can cause those family members to have bad feelings toward one another and it can even destroy relationships. One option if one wishes to leave more money to someone is to make that person a beneficiary on one or more of one’s investment or bank accounts so that they inherit more money. That is preferable than giving preferential treatment to one or more people under your will, as seeing the disparity in writing often provokes anger and hostility. If you treat family or friends equally under your will, that tends to have the effect of keeping harmony.
In terms of personal belongings, such as jewelry, works of art and the like, a simple handwritten letter disposing of these items to specific people, and perhaps explaining why you are leaving to one person over another, can avoid fights about who gets what pieces of jewelry, art or memorabilia.
When a client has three or more children, and wishes to avoid bad feelings, he/she may want to make all three children Executors of their will or Trustees of their trust. While good in theory, having more than two Executors makes things unnecessarily complicated and can often cause delay. With two children, it is usually wise to name both of them as co-Executors (assuming both are capable and get along to some degree) is usually essential, as choosing one over the other causes terrible hard feelings.
It is also often a good idea, if one has more than one child (or other close family member), to give each child or person some type of responsibility. For example, if you have three children, you can choose one to be your primary health care agent, one to be your power of attorney, and one to be the Executor. In that way, the “jobs’ are divided up and everyone feels that they have a role.
One other important piece of advice is that it is often not a good idea to share the terms of your wills and other documents with family members. If you do, you may very well be surprised that someone is disappointed, feels that you are not doing the right thing, etc. Since these documents are yours and only yours, your decisions in that regard should be independent.
In conclusion, taking some simple steps in drawing up your estate plan can avoid fighting and preserve family harmony.