Domestic Diversions

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Money suggests that the holidays are a good time for families to discuss estate planning.

Jeanne Sahadi explains these tips (excerpt):
“Equal shares” sounds fair, but it isn’t always. . . .

Avoid inadvertent inequality. Often, Kotzer said, “Parents base their planning on today’s situation.” They may assume a child who is better off than his siblings will always be so and doesn’t necessarily need as large a cut. . . .

Carefully consider whom you name executor. “Parents will often trivialize who they’re appointing as executor,” Kotzer said. A typical default is the eldest son.

If some or all of your kids are capable, you might ask who among them would be willing. Not everyone is, so you might as well find the person who’s happiest to do the job.

If your kids don’t get along, consider an outside party to distribute your estate. That’s because the executor can make decisions that will affect the rest of your family. . . .

Be clear what you’re bequesting. If you leave your “antiques” to someone, does that include some hunk-a-junk from the 1960s? . . .

If you’re leaving a large, expensive item to a child who lives far away, specify who will pay for freight.

Sentimental value knows no bounds. You’re a huge part of your children’s lives and their memories. So make sure they each get mementos they want and which represent your relationship to them.

For starters, specify that each child gets back what they gave you, Kotzler said. That way, the crystal vase your daughter bought you goes to her and not her blowhard brother-in-law, whom she never liked.

And if you’re going to leave your jewelry, leave it to the relatives who really want it and not to those for whom it has no meaning.

You might also ask your kids what they’d prefer. If two kids want the same thing, “you’ll have to play Solomon,” Kotzer said, but at least you had the discussion.

Protect your kids. You may love your second spouse. But you’ll have to insure that your kids from your first marriage get what you intend for them to have. Whether from ignorance, selfishness or a premature demise, your second spouse may not set up his or her will to adequately provide for your children.

Have a little chat. A common complaint Kotzer hears from adult kids is, ‘Why didn’t my mother tell me this?’ “What I’m finding is there’s no communication between children and parents,” he said.

You certainly don’t need your children’s permission when making inheritance decisions. It’s your estate, after all. But you can prevent a lot of potential family feuds if everyone is made aware of your intentions and has some sense of your reasoning.

“The key to creating harmony is the discussion,” Kotzer said. “And holidays are a great time to begin the discussion.”

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