Family Conflict in Estate Planning

Communication between family members can be difficult even under the best of circumstances. No matter how much we love and want to support each other, it can be easy for old baggage and disagreements to get in the way. Unfortunately, estate planning often does not occur under the best of circumstances, so it came as no surprise to us that a recent survey identified family conflict as the biggest threat to estate planning.

Designation of Beneficiaries

According to the survey noted above, 30 percent of respondents who identified the threat of family conflict identified designation of beneficiaries as the greatest source of that conflict. After all, this choice often reflects the existing dynamics of the family, for better or for worse.

To prevent challenges to the beneficiaries designated in your will, it’s vital to have accurate and thorough estate planning documents. The same beneficiary should be listed on all documents, including insurance and retirement accounts. It’s also important to make sure the will is up-to-date. Failing to change your estate planning documents after weddings, divorces, deaths, or other family changes can lead to confusion and disagreement when it comes time to execute the will.

Communication in Advance

Another factor in miscommunication is the failure to communicate the contents of an estate planning document to all family members. As Karen has noted before, it is always important to communicate your estate planning decisions to the people who will be affected by it. If the beneficiaries and executor are caught by an unpleasant surprise, it becomes much more difficult for the distribution of the estate to go smoothly.

Cultural Differences

Most of us have thought, at one point or another, that our in-laws seem like they’re from a different planet. Sometimes this is because the two of you were genuinely raised in different cultures, and sometimes it’s simply because you process the world differently from one another.

This factor can be the hardest to address when it comes to preventing estate planning conflict. After all, when one or both parties are frustrated by communication, just telling them to communicate is unlikely to solve the core issues. Making sure all family members have the chance to at least hear and understand the conflicting goals and values is usually the first step. As is true of all the above factors, the greatest preventative measure is to ensure that your documents are all correct and drafted by a competent estate planning attorney.