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A sure-fire estate plan for a complicated family

One of the most important benefits of creating an estate plan is to ensure your final wishes are clear and respected by law. You have likely put a lot of time into considering the elements of your plan. However, perhaps you can't avoid the painful truth that no matter how fair you try to be, some of your potential heirs are likely to raise a fuss, perhaps even dragging your estate through a contentious probate dispute.

If you have a complex estate, substantial assets or heirs that you expect will express dissatisfaction with the contents of your will, you may wish to take steps to protect your plans against challenges. There are some safeguards you can put into place to improve the chances that probate will go smoothly and your representatives will carry out your wishes.

Shock and confusion

Probate disputes create havoc in a family. One heir may feel the estate plan treats him or her unfairly, and other heirs will either rally behind the jilted heir or join forces against him or her. Someone who chooses to dispute your will may have the following reasons:

  • You must have made a mistake.
  • Someone used undue influence over you.
  • You were not in your right mind when you made your plans.
  • Your will is not valid.

To prevent such disputes, the primary goal should be to make sure you are clear that the wishes expressed in the will are truly what you intended. As difficult as it may be, you may have no other choice but to gather your would-be heirs and explain to them what your estate plan holds. Letting them know ahead of time and explaining the reasons for your choices may prevent any surprises at the reading of the will and dispel thoughts that the will does not express your true intent.

Additions and alternatives

You can always add a no-contest clause to your will. This caveat disinherits anyone who contests the contents of your will. While this may quiet beneficiaries, it cannot protect you against those you have already disinherited.

To eliminate the question of whether you were of sound mind when you wrote your will, you may wish to include medical proof that you understood the choices you made. A doctor's certification of your mental health may stop your heirs from protesting that you didn't know what you were doing.

You may also consider creating a living trust instead of a simple will. In addition to the many benefits a trust provides, its contents remain confidential so that the ire of a discontented heir may not be fed by nosy outsiders who access the information through public records.

Legal considerations

Estate law is different in every state, and North Carolina may have statutes and regulations about which you may not know. Certainly, you cannot depend on an online will generator to know the law of your region or the dynamics of your family. Seeking advice from an experienced attorney will allow you to explore every option available to you, and you will receive sound advice for the best alternatives for your circumstances.

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