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What family dynamics can predict an estate battle?

One advantage of having a carefully-considered, detailed estate plan is that you minimize the chance of fighting among heirs after you're gone. Even close family members can turn on each other if they believe that they were unfairly or mistakenly denied the inheritance they expected.

There are myriad family dynamics that can be predictors of an estate battle. Following are a few, along with steps you can take in your estate planning to minimize resulting issues.

Mental illness or substance abuse

As we've discussed previously, when you have a child or other family member with a substance abuse issue, you're rightfully concerned about their ability to handle an inheritance. The may also be true with family members with serious psychological issues.

A trust is generally the best way to ensure that your loved one is included in the will, but that disbursements of assets are supervised by a trustee. If an heir receives government assistance for a disability, a trust can be set up so that it doesn't impact those benefits, but he or she can still receive supervised disbursements from the trust.

Sibling rivalry

This can be a big source of conflict. Perceived unfairness in the estate plan can trigger emotions from a lifetime of sibling battles -- even if you take pains to treat them equally in your estate.

If you believe that your children will fight over your estate, it's best not to appoint any of them as the trustee. That will only exacerbate the sense of inequality. Appointing multiple children as co-trustees can make things even worse. Choose someone you trust, but who's outside the immediate family dynamics. If necessary, you may need to appoint a professional fiduciary.

Remarriage

When people go into a second marriage later in life, relationships between adult children and stepparents are often strained. When people remarry, it's essential that they update their estate plan. It's also wise to have a prenuptial agreement. These documents can help ensure that your children get the inheritance you intend. Otherwise, the surviving spouse is at a significant advantage under California law.

You can further avoid familial conflict after you die by discussing your estate planning decisions with your children and other close relatives while you're alive so that there are no major surprises. It's also essential to keep your estate planning documents up-to-date to reflect changes in your life and your family.

Source: Everplans, "8 Signs Your Family Will Fight Over Your Estate," accessed March 19, 2018

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