Armed with good intentions many parents leave everything they own to their children after they die.
However, problems may arise if the language they used in their will says that “everything is to be split equally among the beneficiaries.” Using such language is often found in a simple will. It may work out just fine in some cases; but in bigger families, simply splitting everything equally may cause a lot of unnecessary squabbling. When the time comes to actually split up the inheritance, issues such as who gets the Swiss cuckoo clock in the hallway, Aunt Matilda’s silver spoon collection and Uncle Henry’s portrait over the fireplace, can become real concerns.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to see once-loving siblings fighting about their inheritance, and sometimes it begins even before their parents are even gone. It’s also not unusual for parents to accidentally promise various heirlooms to more than one person.
Resolving Inheritance Disputes
If the heirs cannot agree as to who gets what by the time they get into Probate Court, the judge has the power to order that everything be sold in an estate auction. After the entire estate has been liquidated, the judge will order that the proceeds of the sale be split equally between the beneficiaries.
So if you really want that cuckoo clock, you should encourage your surviving parent to come to some decisions about who gets the more important family heirlooms. However, first consider discussing this with your siblings and approach your mother or father together, rather than taking it on yourself to broach the issue. Going solo might raise suspicions and resentment among the other family members.
Together as a family, you can emphasize that you only want to reduce the possibility of hurt feelings or disagreements after a passing. In an ideal world, you should get your mother or father to have their Will revised to show specifically who gets certain items. However, at the very least, you should have them make a handwritten list and then sign it. They might even want to affix labels to the items in question with the intended beneficiaries’ names on them.
Another related matter next becomes the determination of just how much that cuckoo clock is actually worth; so you may have to hire an appraiser. Because everything in the estate was “to be split equally,”
if sister Sarah gets a household item valued at $100, then brother Bob should either get an item worth the same amount or should receive $100 in cash. That’s why sometimes, in the case of a rather large family estate, the judge will simply order the sale of everything, and have the assets equally divided.
Cooperation and communication are just some of the keys to preventing family disputes after parents have died. However, the same principle also applies to effective estate planning between clients and their estate planning lawyer. Estate planning is more than just money and real estate; it’s about creating a legacy for a family, dealing with emotional issues and discussing long-term care concepts.
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