While every parent wishes their family would remain civil and friendly after they pass, it is one of the most common problems after a death. Here are some ways to avoid the problems, or settle them if they should arise. Use these four methods to help keep your loved ones working together, especially during the emotional and traumatic times that usually surround the death of a loved one.
Method 1: Fairness and Equality: If possible, try to treat all your loved ones fairly and in equal shares within your estate plans. The single biggest reason loved ones have hard feelings after the death of a parent is that they feel slighted in some way. It could be financially related, responsibility related or even sentimentally related. If you look at your estate plans from these three standpoints and try to keep everything fair and equal, you will solve most problems before they arise.
Method 2: Communicate Your Wishes Early and Often: At regular intervals as you age, take time to arrange family meetings to discuss your estate and final wishes in a casual atmosphere when there are no pending health or emotional issues to cloud one's judgment. These are great family bonding times and can be very productive at keeping the peace. The more often your loved ones have an opportunity to share their viewpoint, the easier the process of expressing their opinions will become.
Method 3: Written Personal Instructions to Family: Also take the time to put your thoughts and wishes in writing. In addition to your Will, Power of Attorney and Health Care directives, let them know your specific wishes for disposition of family jewelry, artwork, heirlooms, collectibles, or any other items that you think might be an issue. By having these written down, along with your wishes for burial, funeral services, and any other issues that are important to you, they won't have to make too many decisions on their own. The emotional strain of a death can make tensions run high and tempers flare. Your efforts will eliminate the need for too much decision-making during this trying time.
Method 4: Appoint A Dispute Resolution Person: It is a great idea to appoint a non-family member to act as a mediator in the event that there are any disputes within the family. It should be someone younger than you, but respected by your family. This person should possess a great deal of common sense and also be a good communicator. Hopefully they will not be needed, but having them available can solve little problems, before they become big ones. This person should be disclosed in your written personal instructions to the family.
Summary: As you can see, the best way to create harmony within a diverse family of individuals is to keep the lines of communication open and try to remain open-minded. If your family is geographically disbursed, you can always arrange a meeting around the holidays or other family gatherings. It is usually best to start the process with your own children first and add their spouses (the in-laws) to the mix later if necessary.
If you follow all or even some of these methods, you are guaranteed to provide a much smoother estate transition than if these topics were never discussed until your passing. Have fun with it and try to keep things informative and concise. Preparing a one-page written "family agenda" that summarizes your ideas will keep things moving forward. Always leave a spot at the end for questions and answers. These discussions could help shape your future plans and additional meetings.