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What can you do to stop conflict between your heirs?

As a parent, you're well aware that your kids are going to fight. Conflict is inevitable. It's how you plan for it and respond to it that counts.

That didn't stop when your kids turned 18. It didn't apply only to young kids fighting over video games or toys. The reality is that many full-grown children have one more major fight looming. They're going to argue over the inheritance.

It's unfortunate, but it happens a lot. The best thing you can do is to plan for that infighting, even if you think it's unlikely. By taking the proper steps, you can stave off an argument that may otherwise drive a wedge between your kids after you pass away.

To do so, here are a few critical tips:

  1. Be specific when you split up items with sentimental value. Kids often argue about items that have very little realistic monetary value when they feel emotionally invested. Don't leave it up to them how they want to divide your personal property. Make a list and specify exactly who gets what.
  2. Keep lines of communication open. Don't assume you must do all estate planning alone. Talk to the kids about it. Get their input. Never make assumptions about what they want, and work to ensure they don't make assumptions about what they'll get. Many fights start when unrealistic expectations aren't met.
  3. Update the estate planning documents constantly. This is especially true after major life changes, like a divorce, but you may want to consider holding a family meeting once a year regardless, just to make sure everyone is on the same page.
  4. Give special care to special situations. For instance, perhaps you have a handicapped child who will need extra care or maybe you own a family business that you want to pass on to some -- but not all -- of the kids. Take your time with these tricky issues.
  5. If you give a gift or a loan, be specific about which one it was. For instance, perhaps you gave your first-born $50,000 during a tough financial time. You plan to leave that child $50,000 less than the other children because you thought of it as a loan. If your firstborn thought it was a gift, he or she may be irate to get a smaller inheritance.
  6. Consider your kids specifically, making note of any "sibling roles." All children are different. Their relationships with each other impact the way they'll react to the will and estate plan. Consider their personalities, past conflicts and things of this nature. Make a plan that prevents potential friction.

These are six things to keep in mind when doing your estate planning. With proper care, you can create a plan that passes on your assets and promotes family harmony.

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