Family fights after the death of a loved one can be ugly, ripping apart family bonds built over a lifetime. When money and family drama combine, the result can be truly explosive. No one wants to have their own death be the cause of a family rift. Once hurtful wounds between family members are exposed, they can take years to heal and sometimes, families never return to “normal.” Here are a five tips to reduce the likelihood of a war after you die.

  1. Don’t Just Assume That Your Family Will Get Along. We all want to think that we have a perfect family, but childhood drama that has been simmering beneath the surface for years can erupt into the open before your body gets cold. “Mom always liked you best” can become the motivation for a war. If that’s a possibility, you need to know now and take steps to address it as best as you can. Living in denial of these potential problems is not a good strategy.
  2. Have a plan. It should go without saying, but failing to plan is planning to fail. If you don’t even have a will or trust, you are setting up a minefield of problems for your loved ones. Putting your head in the sand and letting everyone clean up the mess later is a recipe for disaster in every way.
  3. Get input from children. So many times, the most bitter fights erupt over sentimental items. Who will get mom’s wedding ring? Who will get dad’s baseball glove? Ask your kids what they want and figure out if there are going to be conflicts. It’s better to know now, while you can do something about it. If so, you can nip these disputes in the bud by making specific bequests of specific items. And consider giving certain items away while you are still alive. By giving the kids a voice, you reduce the risk of hurt feelings later.
  4. Communicate your intentions over and over. When you were learning to drive a car, you were taught that if you want to avoid accidents, you signal your turns. Communicating your intentions to others avoids surprises. This same principle applies to your estate plan. Families that talk about these issues, early and often, rarely have disputes after the death of the loved one. These can be awkward discussions to have, but the alternative sets the stage for battles after you are gone.
  5. Keep your plan updated. Having an outdated will or trust that you haven’t looked at in years is often worse than no plan at all. Have new family members been born since you signed your documents? Death, divorce, bankruptcy, health issues, drug addiction, and incapacity of a family member are all excellent reasons to revisit documents that were drafted long ago. Not to mention that the laws relating to estate taxes have changed dramatically over the past decade. Time to dust off those documents and look them over with your lawyer.