You have likely heard how most Americans do not have an estate plan and how many have not even written a will. That is a problem and must be addressed. But there’s another side of it that needs to get consideration: Even among those who do have an estate plan, most children do not know what it says or what it includes.
What this means is that many parents know they need a plan, but they still feel uncomfortable having a conversation with the kids about it. Maybe they don’t want to bring it up because it feels stressful or awkward. Maybe they have always considered financial details to be private information. There are a lot of reasons for this lack of communication, and the reality is that it breeds many potential problems down the line.
“That creates infighting and resentment…because no one knows what their intent really was,” said one expert. They also noted that more issues tended to crop up when dealing with family businesses and second marriages.
The issue with intent
A lot of estate disputes happen because of these disagreements over intent. It’s a serious issue because both heirs may honestly feel that they are correct in their interpretation of what a parent wanted. If the parent never talked to them about it beforehand, it becomes difficult to determine.
For instance, perhaps one heir thought that a vacation cabin would go to both children, split evenly. Instead, the cabin went to the heir who still lived near it, in Washington. The other heir, who had moved out of state, got other assets instead.
Perhaps the parents’ plan was to give the children assets that were most convenient for them. However, the out-of-state heir may believe that the other child used undue influence to get their parents to change the estate plan and “stole” the vacation cabin.
What really happened? Both scenarios make sense. If the parents never had any conversations with the children in advance, they honestly cannot know what the parents wanted. All they have is the will and the estate plan. In theory, these documents reflect the parents’ wishes. If the children disagree on this point, though, thinking that the estate plan is inaccurate, it can create a complex legal situation that takes a lot of time to sort out.
The parents could have prevented all of that by having the family sit down beforehand and talking about what they wanted and what their heirs should expect.
Have you found yourself in a situation like this that needs to get sorted out? Make sure that you are well aware of all of the legal options that you have and the steps you can take.