In the classic Brady Bunch episode “Her Sister’s Shadow,” Jan’s frustration at constantly being compared to her older sister Marcia bursts forth. Perhaps it is because we can all relate that Jan’s exasperated “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” became a cultural catchphrase despite only being uttered just that one time.
These same feelings of inferiority and a sense of not being treated fairly frequently burst forth during the estate planning process. In fact, 44% of estate planning professionals say dealing with family conflict is the biggest challenge they will face this year. Tax reform and market volatility come in second and third.
Our best advice for avoiding such drama is to focus on the fact that an estate plan should treat people fairly, not equally.
Perhaps one of your children or grandchild has special needs. Would you give them less money to cover medical costs just because another child or grandchild is not getting as much? Of course not! Keep this in mind when you are thinking about who should get what. Each of your family members is unique, and working with an experienced estate planning attorney means you can craft an estate plan that is as unique as your family. Tap into the years of experience and advice you are paying for if you get stumped about how to divvy things up.
Also, keep in mind that there is no way to right the perceived wrongs of years past in an estate plan. The only direction you can move in time is forward. Emphasize the goals you have set and the vision you have for you and your family’s future. If someone wants to complain about something that happened in the past, politely but firmly redirect the conversation.
Don’t forget that the number one person your estate plan takes care of is yourself. Be sure to communicate with your loved ones about your preferences for end-of-life care and your burial wishes. Make sure the people you want to serve in specific roles — power of attorney, estate administrator, trustee, guardian for children or pets, etc. — are willing to do so, and let others know who you have asked to do what.
Feeling are going to get hurt when you have these deep and difficult conversations, but it is far better for that to happen while you are here to explain yourself than after you are gone.