A comprehensive estate plan, if it’s going to reduce the conflict among heirs, should have an up-to-date will, trusts (living trusts and special needs trusts, for instance) and an impartial executor. The plan should prioritize charitable and philanthropic contributions. The estate planner should also consider tax efficiency and ensure there’s enough liquidity in the estate to pay bills and taxes (one way for planners to do this is by making sure life insurance proceeds are adequate). And if family members are unlikely to cooperate in administering the estate, experts recommend that planners appoint professional trustees.

The larger and more complex the estate, the more a team approach to trusts is required, says Dadakis. He recommends that estate planers appoint an administrative trustee to keep the books and records, an investment management trustee to hire (and fire) investment managers, a distribution trustee to decide when and how to distribute funds to beneficiaries and a trust coordinator to ensure that everyone else is doing his or her job. “Having one person do all the work for a trust is basically going by the wayside,” says Dadakis.

2. Lack Of Communication
Disputes over inheritances frequently have a common origin—poor communication about the estate plan. As the shock and sorrow of death set in, heirs who are unprepared for the terms of a will or the disposition of an estate may become upset enough to sue.

“Generally speaking, people don’t do all that well with surprise under any circumstances. When you’re in the middle of the natural grief process, adding the element of surprise about an estate plan makes emotions even more intense,” says Patricia Armstrong, senior director of planning, family dynamics and education at Wells Fargo’s private bank Abbot Downing.

Old grievances, such as petty sibling rivalries, can explode into bitter conflict when family relationships are inevitably altered by death, especially the passing of patriarchs and matriarchs.

Armstrong says that sibling challenges usually involve strong emotions fueled by grief and each individual’s expectations about what’s fair. “It’s only natural that the situation is rife for potential dispute. The way you mitigate that is by doing as much communicating in advance to reduce the element of surprise, so that people can calmly approach what will likely be a protracted and complex estate settlement process,” says Armstrong.

Contrary to what some parents may think, avoiding difficult estate planning discussions doesn’t reduce conflict. The potential for quarrels usually escalates the longer conversations are postponed.

“Your children are going to read the will someday. … It’s crazy for them to read it after you’re dead for the first time. You’re not in a position to answer questions—unless the Ouija board really works,” Warren Buffett said at Berkshire Hathaway’s 2013 annual general meeting, according to an article in The Globe and Mail.

Unfortunately, BMO Wealth Management’s survey indicates that important conversations are not taking place as often as they should. “When asked if their parents had shared their estate distribution plans or details of their wills and executor selections, only 28% of respondents indicated that they have had these discussions,” according to the report.

“If parents are not comfortable with verbal communication, they might begin by writing a ‘letter of wishes’ or a ‘legacy letter’ that lays out their hopes for what the inheritance will do for the recipients,” says Armstrong. For example, she says a letter could express the parents’ desire that the children use their inheritance for further education or for philanthropy.

Armstrong also recommends Preparing Heirs: Five Steps to a Successful Transition of Family Wealth and Values by Roy Williams and Vic Preisser, which discusses the authors’ research into the legacies of 3,250 affluent families and how to maintain harmony while successfully transitioning wealth to well-prepared heirs.

Besides good intrafamily communication, the wealthy and their advisors need to engage.

Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman reportedly chose not to create a trust because he didn’t want his three kids to become spoiled trust-fund brats. When he died in 2014, his $35 million estate went to the mother of his children. The failure to establish a trust created a sizable estate tax bill.

Somewhere along the line, Hoffman should have been told that trust funds don’t automatically create ne’er-do-well offspring, says Dadakis. “His advisors failed him.”

Hoffman could have been advised to leave specific instructions governing how much and how often his kids received distributions. His advisors could also have recommended including a provision that the children work at paying jobs or volunteer for charitable causes. If he was worried about the kids’ judgment or wisdom, Hoffman’s advisors could have created trusts controlled by a responsible family member or friend, or by a corporate trustee, until the children reached maturity.

Advisors can also help teach heirs to use wealth responsibly, say by advancing an important social or environmental cause through impact investing.