Some family conflicts are inevitable and are especially common among siblings. This article will offer some helpful Florida estate planning guidelines to limit sibling rivalry and other family conflicts. Even if you’re not in Florida, these tips should apply in your state of residence.
The problem of sibling rivalry (and other family conflicts) usually occur often during the trust administration and/or probate process in Florida. Family conflict may or may not sound like a minor issue; however, the drama that it creates can thwart an estate plan. At a minimum, these disputes cause emotional trauma for family members AND can cost the estate a lot of money. You want to avoid, if at all possible, the need for attorneys and judges often must step in and mediate these conflicts.
Of course, family members are often unaware of these destructive family dynamics and simply become entrenched in a position of right and wrong. The good news is that there are ways, both when preparing your estate plan and after the fact, to decrease the likelihood of sibling rivalry and other family disputes. We are have summarized these tips into the following Florida estate planning guidelines to limit sibling rivalry.
GRIEVING PROCESS – Foreseen and Unforeseen Estate Planning Conflicts
You might say that a death in the family can do strange things to people. All people grieve differently and often, grieving over a lost family member leads to bizarre behavior and dramatic family conflicts.
Sometimes a conflict can be foreseen, as is the case with siblings who’ve basically never gotten along or who’ve had a “rift” for many years. In these cases, planning to avoid conflicts is foreseeable and thus much easier.
Sometimes inter family conflicts are less foreseeable, as can occur simply due to the loss of a beloved family members. All to common, families are stricken with a kind of survival instinct or seek to cling to estate assets, as a way to deal with the loss.
Either of these scenarios is a hotbed for conflicts.
Limiting Potential Conflicts to Avoid Expensive Estate Litigation
One of the most expensive things that an estate can undergo is a prolonged court battle. Unfortunately, when conflict erupts, family members usually experience difficulty communicating and resolving disputes, and parties tend to “lawyer up”. This process can result in tens (and even hundreds) of thousands of dollars being eaten up by legal fees.
Estate litigation can make lawyers happy and enrich their estates, while depleting the clients. So, avoiding estate litigation should be planning priority number one and thus it is critical to understand and apply the following Florida estate planning guidelines to limit sibling rivalry.
Estate Planning Meetings to Limit Estate Conflicts
Estate planning meetings can help family members understand a plan in advance and can take the fear and guesswork out of the estate administration process. This sense of unity and organization and lessen the likelihood of conflicts.
Inter Family Therapy to Limit Estate Conflicts
Obviously unresolved anger and disputes leads to likely estate conflicts. However, sometimes the looming needs to take care of the estate can be a positive incentive to get family members to communicate. There is a much greater likelihood of a parent obtaining the cooperation needed for interfamily therapy in advance (as a pre-condition to receiving assets) from the estate, verses expecting family members to resolve issues later while in the grieving process.
3 Estate Planning Legal Tips to Limit Sibling Rivalry
When the potential for family conflicts and especially sibling rivalry is ignored, poor planning is often the result. So, what can be done to plan ahead for potential sibling rivalry?
Here are 3 practical estate planning tips that are an important part of our Florida estate planning guidelines to limit sibling rivalry. In my experience, these actions can lessen the likelihood of expensive estate litigation.
Finding Roles Within the Plan For All Family Members
Appointing Co-Trustees Rather Than One Whenever Possible
Selecting the Most Cooperative and Reasonable Siblings for the Estate Fiduciaries
Tip 1 – Finding the Right Roles For All Family Members
Appointing different siblings to different roles can make everyone feel included in the estate plan and this can foster harmony.
Parents Should Consider the Relationship of Siblings When Doing Estate Planning and Should Communicate Their Intent and Wishes As An Effective Way So As To Curb The Likelihood Of Sibling Rivalry.
Finding roles for all family members, or all siblings, can take a number of forms in your Florida estate plan. As we’ve discussed in the past, there are 3 basic documents and these accompany basic roles which are: the Personal Representative of the Florida last will and testament, Florida durable power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney.
Other important roles to consider may be the Successor Trustee of your Florida revocable living trust and the Guardian of your person and/or your minor children. When your complete estate plan is established, your trust and other estate planning documents should work together, and the siblings may function in various roles or as successors to one another in these roles.
Insider Tip When Deciding Upon the Right Roles:
Consider alternating key roles between siblings so that everyone is involved in an aspect of the estate plan.
A great way to get all the siblings involved in the estate is to think about whether one key role, such as the Personal Representative of the Will, may be more appropriate for one adult child, while another key role, such as the Healthcare Surrogate, may be more appropriate for another adult child. It is fairly common, in my experience, that one of the kids is experienced in medical matters and is thus more appropriate to make medical decisions, whereas another is more appropriate for financial decisions. Another consideration is whether an adult child who lives in the same community is more appropriate to be present for medical emergencies?
Tip 2 – Appointing Co-Trustees of Your Florida Trusts
Appointing co-trustees can foster cooperation among siblings and also avoid the possibility of one sibling abusing his/her power over the estate to spite the other sibling.
I often suggest that more than one sibling may serve as a successor trustee of a Florida revocable living trust, and this kind of dual appointment can be highly beneficial in curbing the animosity that can ensue when one adult child is positioned to “lord over” the others.
There are estates where this approach makes sense and estates where it does not work. When appropriate, a co-trustee approach involves appointing more than one sibling to oversee the distribution of the Trust assets.
Tip 3 – Selecting The Most Cooperative and Reasonable Siblings for the Estate Fiduciaries
This may seem like a “no brainer” and yet in my experience it is often the “favorite” who is appointed to various roles and this person may not be the sibling who has the greatest ability to bring the family together. In fact, sometimes the other siblings can resent the “favorite child” and this can lead to an expensive litany of conflicts in the estate administration process and thus is a critical part of our Florida estate planning guidelines to limit sibling rivalry
I invite you to consider your family dynamics and the relationships among siblings. Now envision how these relationships would react to a significant amount of emotional grief and financial stress.
Who among your family members is best suited to navigate these kinds of circumstances with a sense of true leadership and integrity. Who best suited to act selflessly and promote unity and healing among your family members. These are all the questions that an experienced estate planning attorney as well as your tax advisor and other professionals should be considering.
When you consider these things now, you have the tools to address areas of contention beneath the surface, and taking time for this reflection can relief a great deal of suffering and needless litigation expense to the estate.
Other Estate Planning Considerations to Limit Sibling Rivalry
Ground Rules for Disinheriting Adult Children
If a child is to be disinherited, consider confronting him or her and make it known to all siblings who are either included or excluded from the estate plan.
Disinheriting an adult child is a natural source of potential conflict. However, the expected fallout can be curbed by letting all of the siblings know in advance who will be disinherited. Some may disagree with this idea, however, I am a big fan of getting things out in the open in advance. Who knows? This might be bridge to discussion and potential healing.
If you decide to disinherit any adult child, make sure it is done with extreme clarity in the estate documents. Make sure there is no room for interpretation in the language of the documents if any adult child is to be disinherited because this just invites a major dispute.
Discuss Transfers of Assets to Adult Children During the Parent’s Lifetime
If there are asset transfers or purchases in Florida by children from the parents during the parents’ lifetime, consider making the other children aware of these and obtain their blessing if possible.
Examples of asset transfers would be the “gifting” of real property to one of the adult children or the purchase of real property by an adult child. Key questions are whether the purchase arrangement is in writing and whether any balance owed by adult that child will be forgiven upon the parent’s death.
We know that part of living in families is dealing with the inherit conflicts that may stem from childhood and are often never resolved. We also know that some families are simply more dysfunctional than others and that these suggestions may be simple for some and impossible for others. With that said, I encourage you to do whatever it takes to resolve differences and find forgiveness while there is time. Forgiveness and harmony, as we know, pays great spiritual dividends, and in my experience, it also can save lots of money for the estate.
Another important note is that if you have adult children who are either very irresponsible, or have had issues with drugs and alcohol or legal problems, you should consider protective estate planning measures with adult children.
Whatever you decide, I encourage you to get proactive when implementing these critical Florida estate planning guidelines to limit sibling rivalry.
Steve Gibbs, Esq.
This article is an updated version of an original post dated September 10, 2015.