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This is the biggest threat to your family's inheritance

You all love each other as a family. Despite your differences and your drama, love is at the center of your relationship, and a common connection with an elder family member like a grandparent or aunt could be the reason for the strong bonds. However, loss tests these relationships and their money, property and assets could be up for grabs in probate.

When a loved one dies, you could feel particularly vulnerable emotionally. It is okay for you to be concerned about protecting your family at this time, but these emotions can also drive conflict even if you don't intend it. We have all heard the horror stories of how a change in the law, taxes or unforeseen debt ruined an estate plan, but none of these three things are the primary threat to your inheritance.

The threat may not be the first that comes to mind

As it turns out, conflict between family members is the number one reason legal and financial professionals cite for estate planning, probate and inheritance mishaps. The problem is growing due to the following factors:

  • A rise in blended families
  • Lack of communication about plans
  • Unrealistic expectations about what beneficiaries will receive

Many people do not think it is appropriate to discuss estate planning and inheritance with their family. Others believe that whatever the default option is will be okay because it is "equal." However, having an open and ongoing discussion about your estate plan can go a long way in planning for the future. Yes, having a conversation about what will happen when you or a loved one passes away is difficult, but it can save tension during a time of great loss for your family.

Ensure your estate plan does what is intended

According to the Journal of Financial Planning, 70 percent of estate plans do not accomplish what their testators (the person writing it) had intended. For example, you might think it is right to leave more money to your daughter than your son after you pass because she is a single mother of three while your son is married and works in a lucrative career. However, because you did not communicate this, your son could feel slighted and contest the will, leading to more conflict and less money for your daughter - neither of which you had intended.

In addition to an ongoing discussion among family members, it is recommended that you also communicate your plans to an estate planning attorney and your financial advisors and update your estate plan every three to five years.

Dealing with the death of a loved one is profoundly difficult, and conflict can make these times even tougher. Proactive estate planning and open communication are two steps you can take toward potentially minimizing conflict between family members during an already stressful time.

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