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Estate planning in blended families

Blended families face a number of challenges in building and maintaining harmony. Step-parent, step-child relationships are fraught with the potential for conflict. When one of the parents involved passes away, the result is often a contentious, even bitter battle over inheritance. Recent statistics showing that parents with stepchildren are more likely to treat children unequally in their wills are unlikely to improve the situation.

Undue influence and unequal bequests

When it comes to estate planning disputes, resentments built up during the decedents life are often motivating factors. Stepchildren who clash with their stepparents are more likely to accuse the surviving parent of undue influence or other misdeeds. The potential for disputes also rises when the children in a blended family receive differing shares of an inheritance. This is especially true when the inequality comes as a surprise. 

Plan ahead and be transparent about your wishes

An inheritance is more difficult to steal if you have a clearly established estate plan, including a will. That estate plan should be up to date, meaning you should review it with your attorney at least once every five years. It is much harder for decedents to dispute wishes that are laid out clearly in a legal document.

Another way to ensure your wishes are followed is to make sure they are understood by your loved ones before the time comes. If the children receive far less than their stepparent, and this comes as a surprise, there is likely to be tension. Any surprises are likely to breed suspicion and anger. It is better to prepare the affected parties in advance. That way, however you want your assets distributed, they won't be wasted on unpleasant litigation.

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