Q. My parents are in complete disagreement about their estate plans. I have a sister but she has substance abuse problems, and my mom wants to completely cut her out. My dad doesn’t. How can I get them to agree?
— Trying to help
A. If your parents don’t come up with some kind of compromise for their estate plans, there’s a good chance that neither of their wishes will be fulfilled.
If a couple believes their disagreements simply cannot be resolved, they may delay their planning indefinitely with each spouse hoping that the other spouse will eventually agree or simply relent, said Frederick Schoenbrodt, an estate planning attorney with Bressler Amery Ross in Florham Park.
“When that happens, an outdated estate plan may remain in force even though the family circumstances have changed so that the old estate plan is now insufficient or even counterproductive,” Schoenbrodt said. “Your parents appear stuck in this trap.”
But here are possible solutions, he said.
Your parents may want to consider the use of a trust for your sister’s share of their estate.
“This offers a compromise of sorts, satisfying your father’s wish to provide for her care and support after their deaths and possibly satisfying your mother’s wish to limit or control access to those funds in accordance with the trust’s terms and the trustee’s judgment,” Schoenbrodt said.
He said the trustee could be a family member, like you, but the family member might then be forced to deal with very difficult decisions regarding distributions if your sister’s substance abuse problems continue.
Naming a family member with a co-trustee — a corporate trustee, trusted advisor or friend — is a potential solution, Schoenbrodt said. This allows for ongoing family involvement in your sister’s support but also builds in objective checks and balances. That will make it easier for the family member to “say no” when that is the right thing to do.
Encourage your parents to sit down with a knowledgeable trust and estate advisor as a first step. Your parents can air their concerns, hear their options and decide whether they can reach agreement on the best way to proceed, he said.
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