Now that the last remnants of Thanksgiving leftovers are disposed of and my clothes not quite as tight from overeating, I took a moment to reflect about how truly blessed I am for my family.
When a loved one passes away, family members must deal with financial matters such settling an estate at the same time as dealing with grief. The emotions involved can often lead to some challenging dynamics.
Typically one member of the family is designated by a will as executor of the estate or by a trust as trustee. Even if there’s a high level of trust and understanding among family members, emotions or outright greed can cause great family relationships to deteriorate quickly. What is considered fair and equitable by the executor or trustee may not be seen that way by other family members.
Some upfront honest discussion at the beginning of the process, although uncomfortable, may help to mitigate the distrust that can be created. Here are some other suggestions I can make if you are now in or can foresee yourself in a similar situation in the near future.
1. Stay out of court. I have seen fights over estates go in to court and in more cases than not, the family estate is drained of assets by attorney fees, court costs and other costs over time. Most noticeably families are torn apart by a court process. Don’t be like the National Hockey League…do anything you can to work out finances without angering any family member to a point of a legal battle.
2. Don’t compete over “favorite child” status. My sister Edie and I have a running joke about how each of us is the “favorite child” of the family. It’s interesting how the dynamic of that joke has changed over the years. It started as being a title of honor and respect that we both thought we deserved. Now we are happy to hand over that title to each other (Edie really deserves it!). Truth is that playing favorites in any family can often lead to resentment and lack of trust.
3. Make sure your own affairs are in order. Don’t put your heirs in the same situation that your parents did to you. The assets of an estate can be divided many ways and properly drawn up will and trust documents can specify how that process is accomplished. Seek the help of a competent estate planning attorney and other financial advisors that can customize your estate plan to fit your specific needs. Don’t let too much time go by before you take a fresh look at your estate plan.
4. Care more about your family than you do about the stuff. When it comes right down to it, you have to decide if your family members are worth more than the money and hopefully they are to you. Stuff (even family heirlooms) can come and go but good memories are what you want to inherit and keep forever. All it may take is a photo or small memento to trigger those fond memories.
Take time to thank God for your family….especially this time of year. Enjoy and laugh as you remember and create good times and learn from the challenges your family can throw at you. Taking a different perspective on your family can hopefully make your Life Less Taxing.