Without careful planning, the legacy you leave after death may not be the one you intend.
Emotions run high after a death in the family, with will contests and other fights as a common result, said elder law attorney P. Mark Accettura of Accettura & Hurwitz. "Greed is not the problem," he told attendees Monday at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' Advanced Personal Financial Planning Conference in Las Vegas. "It is the symptom. The problem is fear."
Evolutionary psychology has hard-wired us to be sensitive to exclusion, said Accettura, who is also the author of "Blood & Money: Why Families Fight Over Inheritance and What To Do About It." Bequests and appointments can bring up deep-seated issues such as favoritism, birth order and sibling rivalry. "They're leaving a lot more symbolically than just money," he said. "Money is how we keep score about who's more loved."
Don't think the fight is necessarily one you'll miss out on, either. "Inheritance disputes are not just about lawsuits that happen after someone dies," said Accettura. Often, fights spring up as the parent's mental or physical health declines. Adult children may try to make demands of advisors that assets be moved or another family member's access restricted, he said. A health decline can also trigger elder abuse. "That's the opportunity for someone who wants to change history in their favor to begin to manipulate the person," he said.