The Difficult Conversation About Wills

June 8, 2017, 5:47 p.m.

“When the destiny of a great fortune is at stake, man’s greed spreads like a poison in the bloodstream. Uncles, nephews, cousins, in-laws of increasingly tenuous connections. The old woman’s most distant relations have come foraging out of the woodwork.” - Narrator, The Grand Budapest Hotel

There is one striking scene in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel that is a dark illustration of the difficult conversation of wills and inheritance. The legal executor stands in front of an anxious audience, expectations running high on what piece of the late wealthy woman’s estate they would receive. All is well until the attorney states that a prized painting was gifted to the concierge of the resort the woman frequented in her sunset years. Tensions run high and leads to a conflict that drives the plot of the 2015 Academy Award winning film. While the film itself was greatly exaggerated, it presented a simple truth to wills: they create the potential for conflict.
Rising among the dust of these feuds is Family Fight, an American website serialising the worst of conflicts after the death of a loved one. The site only features 24 stories out of the hundreds they have compiled into their prolific books, but this small selection enough to make one reconsider the contents of their will and how to navigate the landmine of human behaviour and emotions.

So when it comes to your final words, here’s how you can attempt to avoid the bitterness that can arise from a will dispensed long after you’ve left.

1. Appoint a Neutral Party as a Trustee A parent’s passing can trigger emotional tension between siblings – stemming from unresolved issues mixed with grief and loss. The settlement of an estate can quickly become a battleground to settle old scores. This can be avoided by appointing a professional fiduciary as trustee; someone disassociated from the conflict.

2. Specific Instructions Not all your children will agree on the same plan about what to do with your estate when you’re gone. Depending on their economic state – they may choose to sell it off for immediate gain, or hold on to it for assets or sentimental value. This difference in their financial status often prompts conflict. Lay out specifically what you would like intended for your estate to your heirs, addressing each of them individually if necessary.

3. Establish Strong Family Relationships There are plenty of stories about end-of-life care where one sibling ends up doing most of the caretaking and in almost all cases, these stories end up in conflict – where blame and guilt come into play sibling rivalries rear their head. Establishing a strong parent-child relationship with all your children equally can help relieve the problem.

4. Clarity in Advance Benefits It’s not uncommon to be in a situation where we would be helping our children in funding their business, debt or down payments. If your financial aid were advancements of your child’s inheritance – make it clear in your will to avoid any assumptions and misunderstanding.

5. Update Your Will (Frequently) Not all things stay the same. Sometimes, there are major changes in our lives, such as separation or a second marriage that changes the division of inheritance. It’s generally necessary to have a will reviewed and updated every five to seven years, and one that accurately (and fairly) reflects what you would like to have executed after your death.

6. Communication Conflict and misunderstandings erupt when communication breaks down. Be upfront and clear with what your final wishes are. Wills are typically read months after the funeral, which leaves a lot of time for assumptions to form among your heirs and deepen the cut. It’s difficult to face the reality of death, so having the crucial conversations now can help prevent possible conflict over inheritance much later on, when you’re gone and not there to clarify your wishes. Creating a Master Plan on huunuu and sharing it with your friends and family is a fantastic way to begin these conversations. To begin making plans on huunuu click here.