When Your Spouse and You Profoundly Disagree About Estate Planning

Disputes over inheritance can get ugly, quickly. What happens when loved ones disagree about estate management, even at the planning stage? Resolving these disputes can be critical, because disputes over inheritance can be devastating to a family, both emotionally and financially. If your spouse and you disagree on approaches to estate planning, this article includes some science-based tips to put the conversation on a more productive path forward.

Explain the Logic:

Don’t presume that your spouse understands the reasoning behind your position. Instead, as experts explained to the Wall Street Journal, state exactly why you believe this is the best course of action. Then be open to listening to other ways to implement the estate plan that could still achieve your result. Often times an experienced estate planning attorney may provide guidance in the dispute and help you come up with the most appropriate solution.

Listen:

It may be obvious to you, but research by University of Montana’s Alan Sillars has shown that the longer a couple is married, the less they listen to what their spouse is actually saying. Instead, each spouse tends to guess what the other will say, and, instead of listening, both spend more time planning their half of the argument instead of understanding the other’s actual point of view. Understanding a position from your spouse’s perspective can reveal underlying reasons for the position, which will further enrich both the relationship and your combined estate planning decisions. Experienced estate planning attorneys frequently help clients mediate disputes and come to the best overall estate planning solution to fit unique needs.

Rule Things Out:

What if you begin by considering what not to do? The more choices people have, the more there is to disagree about; choice can be paralyzing. So come up with things that you both agree are off-the-table. For example, you’re probably going to agree that you don’t want your entire estate going to the IRS. Even if this doesn’t automatically lead to positive answers, having a shared objective will remind you of things you have in common, and the conversation may become more productive.
If the problems are absolutely intractable, a last resort option might be to consider setting up separate estate plans for each spouse—an idea this Forbes piece addressed a few years ago:

If you each have your own lawyer, you may have more freedom to speak up about your specific concerns and desires without having to take into consideration those of your partner. In addition, your own best interests will be the only concern. This is especially important in blended family situations where there are often competing, conflicting interests between step parents and children.

Consult an Expert:

The law can be dense, and there may well be other options that neither you nor your spouse considered, that can address all of your concerns.

To find the best estate planning solutions that meet or surpass your estate planning goals, you should contact an experienced estate planning attorney. The estate planning attorneys and professionals of Wilson+Miller look forward to serving you. Please contact us today to schedule a consultation. 501.221.7776.

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