Yes, this is important to me
Four straightforward steps to a friction-free plan
At the back of your mind, it’s something undone, weighing on you. You want to be responsible and have a clear estate plan, you know it’s the caring thing to do for your family, but it sounds so complicated. Where do you start?
Here. We’ve broken it down into 4 basic steps, with details on each.
Make a practical plan
The problem with many wills is that they open more questions than they answer.
- You want your house split between 3 kids - but who deals with the tenants?
- You want everyone to inherit the business, but what if two kids want to keep it and two want to sell?
- What if some of your kids get government benefits, and this kicks them over the edge, so they don’t qualify anymore?
So instead of running straight to your lawyer, figure out the practical components first, possibly with an accountant or advisor.
Think about things like:
Who makes the decisions on assets
Who gets the final say on each part of the business
What happens to the surviving spouse, and who should be the trustee in case that’s needed
So you can treat everyone fairly, even if that doesn’t mean equally.
In a nutshell
Make sure you have a practical plan for how assets should be split, so your will is realistic and practicable.
It can be helpful to have an advisor (eg accountant) assist you in figuring out your options.
Get everything in writing
Now that all decisions are made, it’s time to:
- Get an estate lawyer to draw it up for legal validity
- Have a rav who specializes in this area to review or amend it for halachic validity.
Why a rav? Because without halachic guidance, your legal will may conflict with halacha. For example, according to the strictest default halacha:
- your oldest son gets double, so an even split may not be halachically binding
- your daughters aren’t entitled to much, and may violate halacha by taking their portion following the will
- If a wife becomes a widow, according to halacha, she doesn’t inherit, her sons do. The civil law default is the opposite.
With second wives or stepchildren, the family dynamics get even more complex.
This is also the reason to work with an estate lawyer, as opposed to an online will preparation program. The programs available today don’t have the ability to deal with the nuances required by halacha.
In a nutshell
Find the right lawyer and rav to guide you, so that you avoid conflicts between civil law and halacha.
Plan for peace
Some good ideas you can incorporate to emphasize peace, and ensure your children have a way to deal with conflict.
1. Add a peace clause
Of course your children know you want them to get along and that you value peace. At least, inside they do.
But in the moment, they’re vulnerable, emotions are intense, and it’s hard to see clearly. Often there’s also that one child who finds it hard to give way. A clause stating that peace comes before anything else puts things into clear perspective.
2. Consider appointing trustees
Sometimes wills need to be recalibrated. Circumstances and economic realities can change, but the person is not always in a position to modify it on his own.
Having two trustees with the power to change the will spreads the responsibility, and provides a balancing factor where it won’t seem that one person had too much influence.
It’s also advisable to have this be the oldest child (for shalom reasons), rather than a second child.
If the trustee will have to make hard decisions or stand firm to pressure, consider having an outsider.
3. Designate a rav or trust arbiter
In case questions come up or things change down the line, it’s useful to have someone your children can turn to settle any disagreements.
In a nutshell
Think about adding a peace clause, appointing trustees strategically, and designating someone to settle any disagreements as additional steps to help uphold peace in your family.
Share your intentions
This is a really hard step to take: to talk to your children, and tell them the plan.
Here’s why it’s worthwhile:
1. Manage expectations
Often, a lot of unnecessary and preventable conflict happens when things are different to what’s expected.
Children who thought the estate value was bigger. Or their portion was more. They might assume that someone else in the family with more influence somehow cheated them or the estate — even when that’s absolutely not the case.
That can cause internal hard feelings, lack of closeness, friction, or outright fighting.
Therefore, honest conversations or mentions about the size of the estate and who gets what means they won’t point fingers at each other, even if they’re not happy.
2. Give processing time
Shock and grief are not good emotions to mix. If the first time your children hear what your wishes were is after you’ve moved on, they’ll have to handle any surprises while they’re still mourning your loss.
3. Clear away doubt
Once people have heard and seen the plan straight from you, they know nobody else influenced your decision.
In a nutshell
Share your plan with your family to ensure expectations are realistic, show that decisions come from you, and give them time to process your decisions without the emotional fog of grief.
Your final legacy is so much more than just asset allocation, and financial arrangements. It’s the family you leave behind.
By pushing past discomfort, and putting thought and care into your estate plan, you gift your children something that’s priceless: peace.