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How can you keep your children out of inheritance battles?

If you're like most people who take the time to create a will, you want to arrange for your family's support even after you're gone. You may also want to spare them from a lengthy probate and soften the blow of your departure. However, if you're not careful, your will could become a minefield.

According to Forbes, in nearly 70% of all affluent families, the death of a patriarch or matriarch leads to lost wealth and fractured relationships. The issue of inheritance can rekindle old rivalries. Children may expect more money or assign greater value to certain keepsakes than their parents would expect. When these disagreements lead to legal battles, they can drain money out of the estate and wreck relationships. But there are steps parents can take to prevent these problems.

Five ways to make sure your will works for everyone

The best way to prevent future inheritance battles is to make sure everyone understands the picture ahead of time. This means both knowing what's going to happen and reaching a place of emotional understanding--in other words, feeling that the decisions are fair. To help you and your family reach this level of understanding, AARP recommends you take five key steps:

  • Communicate your plans for the estate. Getting everyone together for a family meeting allows you to introduce your plans and make sure everyone knows why you've made the decisions you have. You don't need to invite feedback, but the meeting allows you to respond to your children's questions. It's possible you may have forgotten something that matters to them, even though you didn't think it important. Addressing that issue in a meeting can keep it from blowing up into a future battle.
  • Divide your estate equally. Leaving more to children who you feel need more help or who cared for you may leave the others feeling spurned. It invites conflict. As AARP reminds us, inheritance isn't just about money; it's also about psychology. Any favoritism shown toward one child or another in the will can lead to a long-lasting sense of resentment.
  • Think carefully about your choice of executor. The role of executor demands an organized, disciplined mind and a keen attention to detail. The executor needs to do a lot of work, and though few people really want to do the work, many feel honored to take the title. If you choose to name one of your children executor, you may want to explain why that child is the best choice. You can explain this in your family meeting or in the will. You may even want to set aside a fee for the work.
  • Address all the important keepsakes. Most people remember to address the big, expensive items like houses, vehicles and investment portfolios, but these aren't the only things people care about. Sometimes, the biggest fights can erupt from squabbles over much littler items. Family jewels, engagement rings, artwork and other unique items may carry tremendous emotional value even if their material value is rather limited. You want to make sure you have a plan for these items and that it's clear and fair.
  • Account for the gifts and loans you give your adult children. It's generally best to treat your children equally in your will, but some may need more help than others while you're around. If you invest in your child's business or help keep them afloat through hard times, you should be clear whether you're offering a gift or a loan. You can then track the amount of that loan or gift in your will. Doing so can help your children understand how you balanced their needs over time.

Better preparation for your future can also help your present

When you bring your family together, share your plan and get everyone on the same page, you can relax. Your children will understand your plan, and they might even feel closer. They'll no longer have questions of money leading them in different directions.

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