I recently attended the funeral of a dear friend. She was a great mother of sons and daughters whom she and her deceased husband loved and taught well. Their children have developed and established varied occupations, states of residences, philosophies and expectations. They have the same gene pool, but are very different.
Not all of the children were able to be close to Mom in her last few months. Some have very different attitudes about how her affairs should now be handled, and about who should receive what from her estate. A few wish to be in charge, and some to the exclusion of all other siblings. I have been forewarned by some of the children that there could be a huge contest looming.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to prepare a living trust and the attendant documents for my friend. She has set forth all the arrangements for who will now make decisions about her affairs. She had executed a proper health care power of attorney in compliance with new provisions for the disposition of her final remains. Arguments over cremation or burial were ended immediately.
My friend designated one of her children to determine how to equally divide the estate assets, and whether to distribute in cash or kind. As long as each child receives an equal share of the estate, the arguments that have been building are finished. Notwithstanding the different expectations of each of the children, the estate will be settled as Mom chose. More aggressive children will have no greater voice, and no majority vote of the children will override Mom’s desires and directives.
Perhaps not all of the children will be immediately happy with the results, but all will be treated fairly as Mom directed. If they want to be mad, they can be mad at Mom (which experience in hundreds of trust administrations assures us is very unlikely). They have no reason throughout the execution of Mom’s explicit instructions to be mad at each other.
Mom made a very important decision in assuring greater family love and unity in the aftermath of her passing.
The greatest assets we leave are our loved ones and relationships. Only proper estate planning (including proper and effective health care directives, nomination of who will administer estate affairs, listing treasured items of personal property to be distributed, assuring proper and timely distribution to beneficiaries, and avoiding the significant extra dangers of family conflict by subjecting the estate to court proceedings and costly fees) can assure the most effective transfer of your assets to your beneficiaries, and the lasting harmony you desire for your survivors.
Contributed by MH Mesa, Phoenix and Scottsdale Estate Planning Attorney and Partner Theron M Hall Jr.
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