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Why is Disharmony Planning important?

When the Parental Glue is Gone and Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?

Over the past 35 years of practice—helping over 8,000 clients—the thing that breaks my heart the most is when the surviving loved ones of my clients fight over estates after the parental glue is gone. This is not what my clients intended. In fact, my experience is that the rate of disharmony and contests in today’s America is 30%. Why such a high rate? It boils down to the resentment, jealousy, grievance and greed of loved ones that pops up when the parental glue is gone. Even worse than the excessive legal fees, is the resulting alienation among disgruntled loved ones that will last a lifetime; as it did between my own mother and her brother, resulting from my grandmother’s decision to give her estate to my mother.

The case of the bad Son and the Anti-Bicker Form. I recall one of my clients from Gladstone, MI who was a divorced father of 4 sons. Let’s say his name was Clem. His estate was very small-only a small house, some hunting rifles and farm equipment. The Will I drafted for him gave everything to 3 good sons and disinherited the undeserving 4th son. The children did not get along. So, I had them sign Family Harmony Agreements (also called Anti-Bicker forms) in which they agreed not to dispute dad’s Will. After Clem passed, the son who was disinherited filed a probate action in Delta County Probate Court contesting the Will. As the attorney who drafted the Will, I was called as a witness. I presented a copy of the Harmony Agreement the disputing son had signed. The Probate Judge was not impressed with the bad son and said, “So, I see you signed an agreement not to contest your father’s Will, and yet here you are. I dismiss your claim, and order you to pay your brother’s attorney fees.”

The Family Home, Cottage or Camp. The biggest thing children and loved ones fight over is the family home, cottage or camp. The second thing they fight over is money, and the more money involved, the higher the risk of disharmony. 

Who gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate? But children will also fight over personal effects—often having only sentimental value. The best publication and video on how to avoid fights over personal effects is a wonderful eye-opening handbook by the Minnesota Extension Service called Who gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate? selling for $17.67 on Amazon. The video is free. My firm has incorporated the 4 different anti-bicker forms recommended by this handbook into my firm’s planning options for clients. 

Solutions to reduce risk of Disharmony. 

  1. We prepare and have your loved ones sign Family Harmony Agreements when estate plans are set up.     

  2. We offer a Fire Drill zoom conference with key loved ones to get all on board if a parent has a serious medical event. 

  3. We prepare a Personal Effects Trust with anti-bicker forms to handle personal effects.

  4. In the Will or Trust that is prepared, we include a provision that before they receive any gifts after your passing, each named beneficiary must agree to cooperate with the process and not contest the Will or Trust.

  5. In the Will of Trust, we also include a mandatory “clear the air” post-death settlement conference at which your harmony goals are explained. 

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