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Smart estate planning can help prevent family conflicts

Taking the step to create a sound estate plan is wise. Too many people put it off and end up dying without even a simple will. This can create unnecessary expense and conflicts for their family.

However, in addition to getting estate planning documents in place, it's essential to discuss your estate plans with your family. That's particularly important if you have children and others who expect an inheritance.

It's only natural to want to avoid the uncomfortable discussions and possible backlash that your decisions may cause. However, if you don't advise your family of your decisions and how you made them, they are more likely to end up battling with each other after you're gone -- particularly if you've decided to leave more to one child than the others.

There are other steps you can take to avoid intrafamily conflicts. For example, it's usually not smart to name one child as your executor or the trustee of other siblings' trusts when there are multiple children. Even if they carry out their duties scrupulously, when one sibling seemingly has that power, it can create antagonism. So can appointing a friend.

Corporate trustees have the expertise to carry out these duties and the distance from the family to prevent accusations of favoritism. Corporate trustees cost money, but it may well be worth it. A large financial institution or trust company is your best choice because they are "dispassionate," as one trust expert explains. Another cautions, "Don't use the small town bank," particularly if people there have some connection to one or more family members.

Another way to avoid sibling conflict if you leave your children assets via trusts is to give each child his or her own trust. Don't establish one large trust for all of your children and expect them to work out the division. That's just inviting conflict. Individual trusts also help protect your children's financial privacy.

Your Maryland estate planning attorney can help you with all of these issues and more. It's smart to establish your estate plan while you're relatively young and healthy. You can (and should) make changes as needed as things change for you and your family throughout your life.

Source: The New York Times, "How to Maintain Peace Among Your Heirs," Paul Sullivan, March 22, 2018

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