Avoiding Family Drama When You Die

Avoiding Family Drama When You Die

Ah, family drama. No one really likes family drama, do they? Unless maybe you are on a reality show and need ratings. But for those of us not on a reality show, we do not want family drama when we die. So, today I am going to teach you about potentially avoiding family drama when you die. No, I cannot guarantee there will not be family drama when you die. But, I can give you a few key points on how to potentially minimize family drama.

Step One in Avoiding Family Drama When You Die: Talk to your loved ones

You should sit down with your loved ones and talk to them about your intentions. Let them know what you are planning and why. Answer questions they may have. Make it clear that your decision firm.

You may wish to talk to specific individuals alone initially. However, please do sit down with everyone in a group setting eventually. You will want to make sure everyone knows, understands and agrees to respect, your wishes.

However, just talking about your wishes is not enough. Let me tell you a story to exemplify why verbally stating your wishes is insufficient.

The Doll Family

Here’s the story of the Mary and Cary Doll.  Growing up in the Doll family, Mother Doll had two sets of china.  The blue china set with pink flowers on it belonged to Mother Doll’s grandmother and the white china set belonged to Mother Doll’s aunt.  The blue china set was used at Thanksgiving and the white china set was used at Christmas. 

Ever since Mary and Cary were little, the girls had always talked about the two china sets.  Mother Doll repeatedly told Mary that she was to have the blue china set when she died and Cary was to inherit the white china set.  Every year during the holidays, this conversation was held over the holiday dinner.  Mary would always beg her mom to include these gifts in her will.  Mother Doll would always say that she did not need to do so because each girl knew which set was hers.

no mention of the two china sets.  Mother Doll’s will merely read that Mary and Cary were to divide everything between them equally.

A few weeks later, Mary and Cary met at Mother Doll’s house to divide up the property.  Imagine how shocked Mary was when Cary grabbed the blue china set and started to put the set in her box.  Mary shouted, “Hey, mom wanted me to have that!”  Cary replied “I don’t remember her ever saying that.  Besides, you can have the white china set.”  A huge fight ensued and years later, Mary and Cary are not speaking to one another.  Oh, and Cary retained the blue china set.

If only Mother Doll had clearly stated in her will that Mary was to inherit the blue china and Cary was to inherit the white china.  There would have been no arguments and perhaps Mary and Cary would be speaking today. 

But, Mother Doll, like so many parents, thought her children would respect her spoken wishes and remember what she had told them she would inherit.  Unfortunately, what sometimes happens when parents think their children will peacefully divide the assets between them, a war erupts.  All of a sudden, siblings who always got along are now mortal enemies.  Words are said that cannot be unsaid.  Feelings are hurt and sometimes belongings are destroyed. Do not let this happen to your family.

Step Two in Avoiding Family Drama When You Die: Put your wishes in writing

As illustrated by the Doll Story, you can see why simply verbally expressing your wishes is not enough. You need to put those wishes in writing.

So many of my clients come to me and say, “Oh, my kids already know what I want to happen regarding my personal belongings.” Trust me, they either do not know or they will not remember when you die. And then family drama ensues.

So, take the time to write down your wishes. There are several ways to accomplish this task.

Written List

First, you can simply keep a written list of who you want to inherit what property when you die. Just make sure you keep this list updated. Also, make sure you keep the list with your will. Most importantly, make sure your executor knows where this writing is located.

Insert Wishes in Will

Alternatively, you can specifically state in your will the name of the person who will get a particular item. For example, you would state I give John Doe any car that I may own at the time of my death. By doing so, you are potentially avoiding family drama when you die. Everyone is on notice of your intentions and your Executor is bound by law to carry out your intentions stated in your will.

Personal Property Memorandum Inclusion

Not sure who you want to leave certain items of personal property to in your will yet? No worries. You can include a provision in your will that references a Personal Property Memorandum. You specifically state in your will that if you leave a personal property memorandum, that personal property memorandum takes preference over your will provisions that pertain to those particular items listed in your memorandum.

A personal property memorandum is a written document that references when you made your will. The memorandum refers back to your will. On the memorandum, you type or handwrite the type of personal property and to whom you wish to have that item when you die. You sign and date the memorandum. Easy peasy, right?

Don’t forget to keep the personal property memorandum with your will!


A great estate planning attorney can help with avoiding family drama when you die. If you want to avoid this situation from occurring, we would love to meet with you and help you plan. Contact us today. Your children and executor will thank you, trust me.