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Keeping It Together: Helping Your Family Heal Once You're Gone

By William D. Block of Block Legal Services, LLC posted in Wills on Monday, November 21, 2016.

The unfortunate truth is that many families go through a lot of fighting and turmoil after the parents pass away. Is there anything you can do to stop it?

Ultimately the answer is "no". There's nothing you can do to control the actions of others. What you can do, though, is make sure that you're not giving them more to fight about. In my last post in this series about some of the limitations of wills, I want to focus on what a will can and cannot do to keep the peace with those that are left behind.

How Wills Can Help Keep the Peace

Though wills do have limitations, they're far from useless. Without a will, there is nothing that says who should serve as the personal representative of the estate. A personal representative is authorized by the court to deal with the court on behalf of the estate, handle all of the estate's assets, and make sure all the distributions are handled properly. This is an important job. Without a will, any of the heirs can fight over who should do it. With a will, there's one less thing for the heirs to disagree on.

A will can also set the personal representative as a tie-breaker in case the beneficiaries disagree on who should get specific items.

Wills are do a great job of handling sentimental property. It is sadly common for siblings to fight tooth and nail over property that has a great amount of emotional connection to them. If this property is split up in the will, the heirs might still be unhappy but hopefully at least they won't be able to bring the fight into a courtroom.

Legal Documents Have Their Limits

Whether you use a will or a trust, putting firm plans in place can help eliminate points of conflict that you leave behind. Each issue that you deal with is a potential landmine that you've just disarmed.

Even so, at the end of the day the people involved are still humans. Going through probate is an ugly mix of grief, litigation, and finances. Mix these all up with some good old fashioned family history and it's a recipe for disaster.

In my experience, the best way to help prevent this is to have open, frank conversations while you're still around. Nothing is more likely to lead to a lawsuit than a child who's surprised to find themselves disinherited, or someone who just found out their sibling is going to get twice as much as they are.

These kind of conversations can be uncomfortable to have - both for the parents and the children - but if people know what's coming then they have time to air their complaints and ultimately come to terms with it. Not only do they get more time, but they can process the information when they're not also dealing with the grief of losing a parent.