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How can you prevent battles over your estate plan?

Recently, we discussed no contest clauses in wills. We noted that when people are found to have a legitimate reason to believe that all or part of a will should be contested, they can challenge it without fear of losing whatever inheritance they were given.

If you want to help ensure that your family and others don't contest your will, a no contest clause can provide a deterrent. Many people don't want to risk being left out of an estate altogether, which could happen if their contest isn't deemed to be legitimate.

However, there are things you can do to assure your family that you drafted your will and other estate documents with full knowledge and understanding of what you were doing, without any undue influence. They might not like the contents of the will, but they will know that this was your decision and that there probably aren't valid grounds for challenging it.

This means not waiting until you are elderly and/or very sick to create your estate plan. Ideally, you should do it while you're still of sound mind and body. You can always make changes later if you need to. Estate planning attorneys generally recommend reviewing your estate plan at least annually.

Let your loved ones know what's in your estate plan. If you're cutting out one of your children or deciding to leave everything to your favorite charity because you believe your kids are old enough to take care of themselves, let them know. These can be difficult conversations, but if you don't have them, your family will have all the more reason to suspect that someone influenced you to cut them out.

Another way to avoid a will contest, particularly from someone outside your family, is to use a revocable living trust instead of a will. That's because a revocable living trust is a private document, while a will is a public one that can be accessed by anyone after it's been filed in probate court.

Your California estate planning attorney can provide guidance for preventing disputes and contests to your estate plan among your loved ones after you're gone. He or she can also help you prepare for conversations with your family about the contents of your estate plan.

Source: The Balance, "5 Tips for Avoiding a Will Contest," Julie Garber, accessed Oct. 11, 2017

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