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Don't let your estate plan surprise your family when you're gone

You've finally decided to put an estate plan in place. Congratulations! Believe it or not, most people don't, and it often causes stress, pain and expense for surviving loved ones.

However, drafting an estate plan without giving your loved ones some idea of what's in it can also cause serious conflict -- particularly if you have multiple kids and/or family members who aren't on the best terms. Even happy families can be torn apart if they don't believe an estate is being fairly divided -- whether it's worth a few thousand dollars or a few million.

Too many people choose not to inform their loved ones of what's in their estate plan, particularly if they think it will be unpopular with one or more person. They don't want to get into an argument, so they don't address the subject.

However, surprises in the estate plan are among the leading causes of family disputes after a loved one dies. If a child learns that you've left more to a sibling than to him or her, it can be confusing and hurtful. If your kids learn only after your death that you've left virtually everything to a favorite charity, a second or third spouse, a stepchild or a distant relative, they may dispute the estate plan in court.

If you inform your family of your decisions (at least any they may not be expecting) while you're still around and explain your reasoning, it's possible that they'll be unhappy with you. However, they'll be less likely to believe that you were manipulated by a beneficiary or weren't aware of what you were doing.

The same goes for the person you choose to administer your estate. Perhaps you believe that your youngest child is more capable of that job than the oldest one. Maybe you decide to have a corporate trust company oversee the administration to minimize family conflicts. Again, letting your family know ahead of time is recommended.

Of course, the worst thing you can do is not to have an estate plan at all. Without one, your family will have to deal with probate and possibly fight among themselves for the assets you've left.

If you're dreading the prospect of talking to your children and other loved ones about your estate plan, your attorney can provide guidance. He or she can also help them as they settle your estate after you're gone.

Source: FindLaw, "3 Common Reasons Siblings Fight Over Inheritance," Molly Zilli, Esq., accessed May 18, 2018

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