Lack of an estate plan could ruin your children's relationship

As a parent, the only thing you really want after you pass away is for your children and their families to have the best lives possible. You love your family. You want your grown children to get along and stay close. You enjoy thinking about them all getting together for Christmas brunches or family reunions for years to come.

Your estate plan could play a huge role in whether that happens. If you do not have one or if you do have one and it doesn't include aspects that are important to your children, it could lead to problems.

Fighting over assets

As a cautionary tale, consider one woman who had two sons. She made a simple estate plan to divide her monetary assets: Bank accounts, retirement funds, life insurance and that type of thing. She left 50 percent to one child and 50 percent to the other.

She thought this was the best option to keep them on great terms. There was no favoritism. The will helped avoid a lengthy, complex probate process. Both children got a nice little financial boost, and neither could hold those gains against the other. She felt like it was the perfect plan.

But she forgot a key point: Dividing her personal possessions. They're far harder to split, and her estate plan never mentioned them at all.

The conflict

The problem, in this particular case, was that she had a piece of artwork that both sons loved. Each one wanted it. Unlike financial assets, you cannot divide art in half.

One son took matters into his own hands. He just went to her house and took the piece for himself.

The executor of the will came up with a solution: Have a valuation done and then pay the son who did not get the artwork the full value out of the financial assets. But the son without the art didn't care. It was the painting that he really wanted. Not the money.

The fallout

The two wound up fighting for a long time over that painting. The amount they paid to go to court was far more than the actual value of the piece itself. Their relationship fell apart and now they do not speak to one another.

Problems like this often arise when items have sentimental value. Two children both remember eating family meals off of a set of china, or looking at a painting on the living room wall or reading through a book collection with their late father. They care about those memories and that emotional attachment more than money.

Parents may think that estate plans do not need to address books or art or dinnerware with no real value. The parents don't have that emotional connection. But as long as the children do, those personal assets can ruin relationships, and parents must know how to plan in advance to avoid such an outcome.

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