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Estate disputes aren't always about your money

You're not oblivious to the fact that children fight over their parents' estates. It happened to you. While you still feel close to two of your siblings, there's one you haven't talked to since your own parents passed away. A legal battle over financial assets left that sibling feeling alienated and angry, and the relationship never recovered.

Not that you think you did anything wrong. Your parents' estate plan just was not very clear and you tried to wade through it as well as possible. But the fairness of the outcome doesn't repair that relationship or put you on speaking terms again.

That's what you're trying to avoid with your children. Your estate plan needs to pass on your assets, but it also needs to keep them on good terms. You've worked out a financial plan that should do the trick.

Family heirlooms

That's a good first step, but you must remember that money does not start all estate disputes. In fact, some experts believe that sentimental value assigned to family heirlooms is even more likely to cause a dispute.

So, while you're worrying about life insurance policies and investment funds, are you overlooking the value of a set of nice dishes, a painting from your den or a book you read to the kids when they were little?

It's those types of things that often lead to disputes and hurt feelings. Children understand how to fairly divide money. If they all get the same amount, typically, the plan works. It feels fair. It's easy to compare monetary totals from the will and see that no one got more or less than anyone else.

With heirlooms, it's a completely different story. They may be worthless, from a financial standpoint. But their value comes from the fact that there is only one item and it is strongly tied to childhood memories. That can't be replaced.

Take the example above of a book that you read to the children. They all remember those fun days of their youth. They want to read it to their kids. But you only have one copy. If you leave it to one child, the others feel slighted. You could leave them extra money to buy more copies, but that may not be the same because they know only one person has the "real" copy.

Monetary value doesn't matter. If you sell the book and split up the $10 you get at a garage sale, they'll be furious. They want the book because of what it is and what they remember, not because of its worth.

Complex planning

As you can see, family dynamics are often complex and it's not always so easy to divide your assets. Make sure you give this some serious thought and make a comprehensive estate plan that really works.

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