When it’s not enough to have a will

Who are the most important people in your life and why?

Do these special people know how you would answer the previous question?

The reality is most people in your life will over-value their place.  Your son cut your grass every week last summer.  Where would you be without him?  Your daughter called you every day to see how you were.  It does not matter that you never really liked talking on the phone.

Your newly retired next-door neighbor, however, took you to almost every medical appointment and bought you groceries when needed and put them in the cupboard for you.  Because of this, your son and daughter never had to take time off work to help with these tasks.

Now the time has come to prepare a will to divide your property after you’ve passed away. Naturally you want to leave the bulk of your estate to your son and daughter. You also want to leave a share to your helpful neighbor.  You prepare a will based upon who you believe are the most important people in your life.  Your son and daughter do not understand the value you placed on your neighbor’s contributions.  After you pass away, your kids are stunned to learn that your neighbor has “weaseled” his way into receiving a portion of your estate. Wild, runaway thoughts enter your kids’ minds about your neighbor persuading you and influencing you to leave money to him. After all, he only drove you around to get a few extra groceries when he was at the grocery store anyway.

Your neighbor, who has been truly helpful to you and indirectly helpful to your son and daughter, is quickly under attack for being a good neighbor.

What could you do differently? At the time you prepare your will, sit your son and daughter down and explain to them why you divided your estate in the fashion that you have.  It is not a secret, although it is often treated as one. Your kids will learn after your passing what the will says. They do not know all of your thoughts that went behind the preparation of the will. Leaving a portion to your neighbor is completely logical, however, it is subject to different interpretations.

You owe it to the most important people in your life to educate them on why your assets are divided in the way that they are. This is particularly true if you are giving one of your children more assets than your other children.  If you don’t, chances are two or more lawyers are going to get a portion of the assets that you worked so hard to gather over the years.  This, I am sure, is not exactly what you had in mind when you rose from your bed each day to head off to work.  We recommend open communications on estate matters.  Sometimes open communications are not possible given the personalities involved.  At the very least, leave a letter behind explaining your thoughts to your family.  It will help ensure the people you designated to receive your estate actually receive assets.

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