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How to prevent your family from fighting over your estate

You can probably find dozens of reasons to postpone creating an estate plan. However, no matter how unpleasant you may find the prospect of contemplating a time when you'll no longer be around, an estate plan can make things easier on your loved ones when that time comes.

One important advantage of creating an estate plan when you're still of sound mind and body is that your family and other heirs are less likely to contest it. If you wait until you're elderly and perhaps are experiencing some cognitive decline, it can be easier for someone who isn't happy with how they've been provided for (or not) to argue in court that you weren't aware of what you were doing or were tricked by someone in to leaving your assets to them.

As you're creating your plan, some communication with your loved ones can also prevent battles over your estate. You don't have to give them precise dollar amounts. However, if you're leaving one child more than another or have decided they're all doing fine and you want to leave everything to your alma mater to set up a scholarship in your name, let them know. You may not relish these conversations, but it's better that they hear it from you than to be left angry and confused after you're gone.

If you're still concerned that a family member is going to contest your wishes in court, you can add a no-contest (in terrorem) clause. This typically states that anyone who takes legal action to contest the estate plan will forfeit their right to inherit anything. This might not dissuade someone who finds out they were left nothing. However, it could prevent someone from going to court because they aren't satisfied with their inheritance.

You don't have to wait until you're certain aboutt your final wishes. You can make changes along the way. You may buy or sell assets in the coming years. You may get new grandchildren. You main gain or lose a spouse. Most estate planning attorneys recommend that their clients revisit their plan at least annually or whenever they have a life change that could impact it.

Your attorney can advise you about other ways you can help your family deal with your death and your estate through the provisions of your estate plan and how best to ensure that your wishes are carried out.

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