The death of a family member is a time of sorrow, and one would think that everyone would focus on remembering their loved one who is no longer with them. Sadly, some people can mourn the passing of a loved one while simultaneously participating in disagreements with the family members who are still living, especially when it comes time to probate the lost loved one’s will. Fortunately, you can write a will that can make it harder for contentious relatives to stir the pot. The following two fundamental principles can prevent much of the bickering that can accompany the death of a loved one and the probating of their will.
The first principle is that your choice of executor matters. A lot. Not everyone has the time, skills, or character to serve as the executor of an estate. An ideal executor is highly organized, unwaveringly ethical, and extremely responsible. Think about a few people who you trust who may have those three attributes and then approach one of them to discuss it. Explain the executor’s responsibilities, and give them time to think about whether they’re willing to serve. Reassure them that you can select someone else if they for any reason would not like serve. You could even appoint a professional fiduciary as your executor, which can reduce the likelihood of family drama because they are not part of the family. If you have a large estate, a corporate trustee may be another option for you.
As with any decision where a person must choose someone to fulfill a role, there’s the possibility that your choice of executor will offend one or more people. More likely than not, anyone who chooses to be offended by your choice of executor also decides to be offended often, by many things. As uncomfortable as it may be to deal with any discord that arises on that point, remain firm. Your choice of executor is yours, and you do not owe anyone an explanation as to why you selected who you did.
The second principle to keep in mind as you draft your will with the hope of reducing family conflict is that details are helpful. After you pass away, you’re not there to explain what you wrote in your will. When you provide clear and detailed instructions for how your executor is to treat each item, asset, or class of things you own, you reduce the opportunity for anyone to interpret what you wrote. Where there is room for interpretation, there’s room for argument.
With that principle in mind, make your gifts as specific as you can, especially for items that have sentimental value to the people to whom you are bequeathing them. If you’re not sure which things are the most meaningful to each of your heirs, you can ask them. Their answers may surprise you, and it affords you the opportunity to give your belongings to the people who most cherish them if you so desire. As an added precaution to ward off battles over your stuff, you can add a clause to the will that gives the executor the authority to sell any item that gets disputed in the event of a disagreement.
Whether you have a will or you would like to change your will or add details to it, it’s time to schedule an initial consultation with Kansas Wills and Trust Attorney J. Joseph Weber. Please call our office at (316) 265-7802, or contact us through our website.