Prince is just the latest in a long line of celebrities who failed to properly plan their estate prior to an unexpected death. But it isn’t just celebrities who are making this mistake. Failing to plan leaves the mess for your loved ones and the possibility of conflict when the family should be coming together. But keeping your estate conflict-free is easy.
Surveys consistently show between 55 and 65 percent of all adult Americans have not done any estate planning whatsoever. Of those who have done something, most have just a simple will. Even those with a complete estate have not had it updated or reviewed in the last 3 years.
Every family is different, but here are several important principles when it comes to keeping your estate conflict-free.
- Have a Last Will & Testament. Without a Will, your estate will be administered and distributed according to the state Probate Code, the state courts, and a default set of laws. This can lead to family conflicts once everyone realizes they can simply argue to a court instead of family. With a Will, your chosen executors will be empowered to control and distribute your assets as you dictate.
- Consider a Living Trust. A Living Trust can give more privacy and control than a Will. It can put immediate control over the assets into the hands of those you trust most. Moreover, they will be obliged to act in accords with your instructions, whether it is to distribute the assets or hold them for some future benefit.
- Provide Clarity. No matter what estate planning document you are using, make sure it is clear about your intentions and instructions. Don’t leave anything up to interpretation. Make it clear who will get what assets and who will be empowered to act on your behalf. Leaving things unsaid can be just as detrimental as what is said.
- Communicate With Your Family. Before anything happens, you should have a family meeting to set forth your goals, desires, and intentions for your estate plan. Put everyone on notice as to who you have determined will be your executor and trustee. Let everyone know how your estate will be divided and how conflicts will be resolved within the family. Failing to communicate clearly and consistently to your family can lead to conflict as each person tries to carry out your last wishes as they understand them to be, not as they really are.
- Consider a Third-Part Executor or Trustee. If you know your heirs will argue and distrust one another, consider a neutral party to act as your executor or trustee. They will be obliged to ensure your estate is administered fairly and properly.
- Don’t Forget About Sentimental Items. Sometimes, the items causing conflict are not of substantial financial value but incredible sentimental value. Make sure those are properly distributed in your estate plan to avoid fighting over these items.
As you can see, keeping your estate conflict-free is not difficult but it does require one to be proactive. Take the appropriate steps to make sure your estate leads to a smooth transition, not a rough one.