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How to protect your heirs from confusion and disappointment

Step one: do the planning. Too many families are thrown into frustrating, time-consuming, expensive probate disputes because a comprehensive estate plan simply wasn't in place. You can start with a detailed list of assets with a name by each to indicate who should receive what. Your attorney can help you with this, as well as with estate valuation and the proper documents to ensure a smooth and smart distribution to heirs.

Second, don't let administrative technicalities effectively disinherit your loved ones. A well written will is always a good thing to have, but keep in mind that items like insurance policies, trusts and retirement accounts have beneficiary designations that can override the contents of a will. In other words, be sure that your beneficiary designations are up to date and correspond with your other estate planning documents.

Another important base to cover is to communicate with your heirs about your plan. Unfortunately, many people never get around to doing this, and heirs are surprised and disappointed to learn of how estate assets are to be distributed. Talking about end-of-life wishes generally isn't the lightest of conversations, but having the talk can get everyone on the same page and prevent disputes down the road.

It has been reported that blended families now outnumber non-blended families in the U.S. If you have stepchildren or half-siblings in your family, then it is important to ensure that your estate plan reflects your family's specific dynamics. Are there family members who are already well off and don't need a large share of the estate? Are there others who don't handle money as well as others?

In any case, an experienced estate planning attorney can help you create a comprehensive plan that shapes the future rather than letting unknown factors shape your estate.

Source:, "Avoid These Estate Planning Nightmares," Michele Lerner, Aug. 20, 2014

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