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What is the top threat to an inheritance?

A poll by TD Wealth asked attorneys, trust officers and accountants this very question. Their answer was family conflict – nearly half were on the same page that this is the biggest threat.

Modern families come in many shapes. Blended families may include children from prior marriages/relationships and ex-spouses. One spouse may be much younger than the other. These are just a few of the scenarios that can complicate estate planning. CNBC reports on three issues that cause issues and tension when it comes to inheritance.

Unrealistic expectations

In many/most families, no one talks about money. Thus, it is not that surprising that most people receive less in an inheritance than they expect.

Ameriprise Financial found that most people expected to receive more than $100,000, but received less than this amount. Sometimes, much less.

Planning ahead can in part counter these unrealistic expectations. For example, a couple who runs a family business – whether a farm, ranch or furniture shop – might add life insurance to equalize an inheritance when only one child is actively involved in the business.

Lack of communication

This one is closely related to unrealistic expectations and often the root cause. More than two-third of people have no idea how much inheritance they might receive.

To avoid conflict that comes from surprise, do more than hand a copy over at Christmas. Have a conversation explaining why you added a trust and how it accomplishes your goals. For example, you can explain how that a trust protects a child by keeping funds beyond the reach of court claims. A candid conversation may be all that you need to avoid the appearance that one child is being punished.

Family drama

Unrealistic expectation plus lack of communication generally equal family drama. About one-quarter of families have already experienced some tension related to an inheritance. 

A will contest and the associated litigation over whether you were of sound mind or really knew what you were doing pits siblings against each other. Litigation can destroy family bonds and deplete estate funds.

The best way to avoid this is to keep up with your estate plan, including your will, any trusts and beneficiary designations on all pay-on-death accounts. If you own a business, add succession planning to the list to ensure a smooth transfer. Certain life events require a second look. These include the birth of a baby, marriage/divorce or death in your immediate family.

Protect your family by setting up an estate plan and talking about it. This avoids intrigue and drama that can lead to litigation and conflict.

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