Just because you prepare a will and other estate plan documents that are legally valid doesn’t mean that there won’t be conflicts among heirs, including siblings. If parents leave their home, for example, to just one of their children, the others may be hurt and angry.
In a letter recently published in The New York Times Magazine, a woman talked about the anger, accusations and threats of lawsuits she’d received from her older brothers after she alone was named the beneficiary of her mother’s home. The mother died after her daughter allegedly cared for her for many years. She claims her brothers were so angry that even when she offered to put the home up for sale and divide the profits with them, they would not speak to her.
In most states, parents aren’t legally required to bequeath property or other assets to adult children. (Of course, most parents try to provide for adult disabled children after they’re gone.) Parents can divide their assets among their kids as they choose, or leave nothing to any of them.
As long as the will was prepared properly, relatives and others who feel they’ve been left out probably don’t have any legal recourse. That’s why, in order to get what they want, they may turn to emotional blackmail and intimidation of the heir who received the bulk of the assets.
Stories like this show why it’s essential to discuss your estate plan with your grown children, particularly if you aren’t dividing your assets equally among them. You may have very good reasons for leaving more to one child than another. Perhaps he or she has cared for you for many years, for example, and you want to reward those efforts.
Whatever the reasons for the distributions you designate, you should discuss them honestly. This may be extremely difficult for you, but it can prevent conflict and estrangement among your children after you’re gone. Your California family law attorney can provide guidance for having these difficult conversations.
Source: The New York Times Magazine, “Mom Left Me the House. What Do I Owe My Brothers?,” Kwame Anthony Appiah, Aug. 16, 2017