Tales Of Caution: A Little Communication Goes a Long Way

Discussing estate planning, including wills, trusts, and funerals, is often not on the top of the list for family conversation. One of the main issues is that it can make people uncomfortable, leaving them to avoid the topic completely. Don’t make this mistake! In today’s Tale of Caution, learn how a little communication can go a long way in saving the family from bitterness and disputes after you are gone.

Martha and John are a married couple with three adult children, Alice, Michael, and Joe. Throughout their lives, Alice and Michael were financially successful and did not need assistance from their parents. Joe, however, needed help. Martha and John had given him money for failed business ventures, helped him buy a house, and supported him through a divorce.

With everyone living busy lives, the family only got together at holidays and family reunions, which seemed inappropriate times to discuss estate plans and wills. Not wanting to have the conversation over the phone, and feeling uncomfortable about it, Martha and John never discussed the contents of their will with their children.

John eventually passed away and Martha did not want to discuss her will with her children who were grieving. When she passed a couple of years later, the contents of the will were then made known to Alice, Michael, and Joe.

Joe was quite shocked to find that his inheritance was much lower than that of his siblings. He was infuriated and immediately sought to contest the will because his siblings must have tampered with it or taken advantage of their mother, because why wouldn’t the inheritance be split three ways? This also caused a rift between the siblings and Joe stopped talking to both his brother and sister due to all the animosity. So what had happened?

What happened was that Martha and John had subtracted the large amount of financial support they had given Joe throughout his life in his inheritance, in their eyes making the distribution fair as they had not given their other children money while they were alive. Unfortunately, however, they failed to communicate these plans to their children, leaving them to dispute over the estate later on and cause much bitterness and resentment.

This situation happens more often than you think. Death and inheritances can be difficult topics to discuss, especially if they are being distributed unevenly amongst children or other family members. Having this conversation, though, offers a host of benefits by preparing the family for what to expect. It can also prevent problems for trustees, executors, etc. in terms of legal disputes afterwards. Your final wishes should not come as a shock to your family. Don’t leave a legacy of discord and bitterness, please be sure to communicate the distribution of your estate with your children and family.

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