In my personal experience as an estate planning and probate attorney, family members rarely fight over money when a parent dies. Money can easily be divided according to the terms of the Last Will and Testament or Living Revocable Trust. And, if a parent dies intestate (without a Will), state statute determines how the deceased' estate will be divided (which probably won't suit anyone, including the deceased if he or she could speak for himself or herself!).
What really raises the hackles of the children and sometimes sets the stage for a family feud that lasts for decades is how the personal property (e.g. Mom's wedding ring, Dad's rifle, grandpa's ratty Army jacket, the silver, furniture, family photos, sporting equipment, automobiles and family keepsakes that reflected the deceased' life) will be divided. After all, the prize antique grandfather clock, which probably is coveted by all family members, cannot be cut in half. So who gets the clock and how is this determined?
Unfortunately, parents often set the stage for such feuds by not planning ahead and by not discussing this issue with their children. Similarly, the children — not wanting to appear greedy or macabre — typically are reluctant to express their wishes or expectations with their parents.
There are a number of means to address this issue some of which are highly informal. For example, one of my clients put a piece of tape on the underside of each item with the name of the child who would receive that item. Another client instructed their children to "draw straws" to see who got their 1st choice, 2nd choice, etc.
A more formal approach is provided by Colorado Statute. It allows the Testator or Testatrix (the male or female drafting a Will) to attach a Personal Property Memorandum to his or her Will, listing each item of personal property and the person who is to receive that item. Since it is impractical to list all items of personal property, the Will typically provides that the heirs can divide the personal property not listed in the Memorandum as "they determine" and if they cannot agree the item is to be sold to a third party and the proceeds divided equally among the heirs.
Obviously, the "devil is in the details", and thus it makes sense to seek the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney. He or she can offer professional advice on creating a simple and effective estate plan that will minimize the risk of a family feud – either over major assets or personal property.