You hear about it all the time. A family patriarch passes away, and the man’s children suddenly begin arguing about how to handle the estate. Who inherits what? Is the executor of the will really doing his job ethically?

I’ve seen it happen to families I know personally. I’ve seen it happen to famous families in the news. It’s depressing. Is there any way to stop the bickering that happens after a death in the family?


Well, if someone wants to be difficult, there really is nothing you can do to stop him. However, there are steps you can take to make arguing more difficult for your children after you pass away.

Think Carefully About Your Executor

Many people choose a responsible family member to be the executor of the will. It makes sense. After all, who cares more about what you leave behind than someone who is intimately involved in your family? However, a family member usually has something to gain from the death, and his judgement may be questioned by other family members.

It’s best to name an executor outside the family, as that person’s judgement is more likely to be perceived as impartial. If you are concerned about your family retaining control of your estate, name a family member as a co-executor, but leave the bulk of the work outside the family.

Be sure you talk to your chosen executor before you officially put their name in your will. You need to make sure they are willing and able to accept the position, should you pass away.

Draft an Iron Clad Will

I hate spending money, but one thing that is worth the expense is the attorney who drafts your will. What is the one thing most family members argue about after a death? Who gets what.

If you have an attorney draft a will that determines where everything goes, your children really have nothing to argue about. They don’t get to determine the division of assets. If you have a will, you have already done that. The only person they can be angry with is you, and if they’re arguing about your will, you’re dead. You don’t care if they’re angry at you. Better they’re mad at you than at each other, right? A will can make that happen.

Discuss Death and Expectations with Your Children

Let’s face it. Death is a subject that is not fun to discuss. Many people avoid it, yet it needs to be talked about. Let your family know what is in your will, so there are no surprises. Talk with your children about your expectations for their behavior after your passing. Show them examples of families who are ruined by arguments after a family death. Teach them early on that relationships are more important than things.

And if all else fails, threaten your children. Rumor has it that my grandparents wrote a clause into their will that if their children argued over the estate, each child would receive just one dollar, and the rest would be donated to charity. Whether it was true or not, the threat worked, and my aunts and uncle got through the division of the estate relatively unscathed.

In the end, money is nice. Mementos are touching. But it is relationships that matter most. If you are a parent, take steps to encourage your children to live in harmony when you die. And if you are a sibling dealing with a parent’s estate, do what you can to get along with your siblings.  Is a few hundred dollars worth destroying the relationships with your siblings?

Photo by rmuser.