Senior Living Q & A: The will shouldn't surprise

Q. I am concerned about how my estate will be divided upon my death. I have seen the children of friends end up estranged because of the way the estate was distributed and I don’t want that to happen to my family.

You have hit upon a very sad, and all too prevalent, outcome of distribution of assets. There are steps you can take to alleviate this:

If one child in the family is doing a lot of caregiving, make a provision for a special remuneration to that child. Either pay them during the caregiving or make a bequest to them upon your death in return for the care. Even if the child says he or she wants nothing for the assistance, make the provision anyway. It is amazing how points of view change after your death.

If you loan money to one child and not to others, be sure to put in writing whether those loans are to be repaid or offset by the inheritance distribution. Otherwise, it may be assumed that they are to be forgiven.

Make a list of personal property and clearly label who is to receive each item. Dividing up the small stuff can cause more tension between heirs than you would imagine. Ask your kids what they want. You may be surprised that inexpensive items may hold special memories for each child. Label the bottom of home décor items, antiques, hanging pictures, etc. Also, consider making a gift of a memento to close friends, aunts and uncles, housekeepers or others outside the immediate family.

You can spread the distributions out over several years, especially for younger heirs. If you are leaving money to grandchildren, you can leave one-third at age 21, another third at age 25 and the final amount at age 30.

Consider giving gifts now rather than upon your death. In 2010, the annual gift exclusion is $13,000. This means you can give $13,000 as a gift to as many different individuals as you want, with no tax implication. If you can afford to do this, you may experience the joy of helping your kids or grandkids purchase a first house, start a business, or fund their education.

The reading of your will is not a time for your children to have big surprises. You should inform them along the way how and why you have decided to distribute your assets.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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