By Robyn A. Friedman
If you’re like most parents, deciding how to divvy up your assets upon your death is easy: Your will divides everything equally among your kids.
But for some others, planning for the next generation is challenging. Perhaps your son is financially secure and has no need for your assets — or is estranged from the family. What if your daughter has been your primary caregiver? Or your children don’t get along?
Not to worry. Experts say there are ways to minimize conflict if your family situation necessitates an uneven distribution of assets. Here’s how:
Communicate. “Let children know upfront what you’re doing,” says Ron Weiner, president of RDM Financial Group, an investment advisory firm in Boca Raton. That minimizes surprises — and conflicts — after your death.
Use a third party. Consider having an impartial third party such as a niece or cousin serve as personal representative or trustee if your children will not work together or are distrustful of one another. That way, it’s less likely for a child to claim that the other was holding back on him.
Get a doctor’s letter. Coral Springs attorney Myra Becker avoids disputes — particularly where one child is caretaker for an elderly parent — by having the client get a letter from her doctor confirming the necessary capacity to prepare a will. “That helps avoid an undue influence claim,” she says.
Be clear. Becker sometimes includes specific wording in a will to explain the thought process of her client in dividing assets unequally. It may explain, for example, that one child is getting less because he was not involved in the client’s life. That way, anyone looking at the document knows the intent.
Bequeath personal possessions in a separate writing. Florida law allows you to keep a letter with your will that distributes tangible personal property such as jewelry. You can change the letter easily — it only needs to be signed and dated. “People fight over tangible personal property much more than you would think, even if it’s not valuable,” Becker says. “The more things are specifically stated, the less there is to fight about.”
Hire an expert. “Get good legal advice to make sure your wishes are observed,” says Jeff Johnson, AARP’s Florida state director. “But also, Boomers should keep this in mind: Communicate your wishes, early and often, and share your thoughts with all family members. A little extra time spent communicating now could prevent hurt feelings, or even broken relationships, later.”