Most parents do not want their children fighting after their passing (although some parents seem to do things to incite their children). So, when planning their estates, parents should strive for harmony and use certain techniques to avoid fights. In some families, with lingering animosity from earlier disagreements, it may be impossible to avoid a fight. But for most families, a well laid out plan and perhaps a separate written explanation, can go a long way to avoid misunderstandings.
The first key is to provide for open and honest communication. Whatever a parent does with one child, or tells to one child, should be told to the others. The child who doesn’t understand why something happened is often the one who starts a fight. This is especially true when it comes to gifts or loans to children. If you give money to one of your children, you need to make clear whether you intend to be paid back, or whether the gifts should be deducted from that child’s inheritance. If you don’t equalize what your children receive, then you must explain to them why you did not. They don’t necessarily deserve an equal share of your estate, but that’s the expected choice for most families, so any deviation from that needs to be explained.
If you make a loan to your child, and you intend the child to pay you back, then the loan should be in writing with the details spelled out. If you intend it to be a gift, then you should say so. You should also specify in your Will that any gifts made to children during life, should not reduce the share they get at death (or perhaps that it should reduce it, but that’s a little more difficult to deal with).
You could specify in your Will that any written loans are meant to be paid back or deducted from an estate share, and any verbal loans are to be treated as gifts that do not change the inherited shares.
Whatever you do, you must make it clear to your children. If you give an item to one child, let the others know about it, or put something in writing like, “On, July 12, 2009, I gave my emerald ring to Susan as she always loved it best. It is no longer part of my estate and Susan’s share of my estate should not be changed by this gift – signed Mom.” It bears repeating that open and honest communication can avoid a lot of disagreements and fights. In many cases of family disagreement, there would be no fight if only we could figure out what the parent had wanted and why she did what she did. Do not leave your children with a fight on their hands, plan your estate clearly to account for gifts or loans to your children.