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What can you do to avoid inheritance disputes?

Your parents got into an inheritance dispute years ago. You watched as siblings argued with one another and said things they could never take back. You watched the whole process drag out in court. You watched as family members stopped talking to one another, even for years after the legal battle had ended.

In setting up your own estate plan, you have one goal: no disputes. It is not that nothing else matters, but that goal is more important than anything else. You do not want to see the estate push your own children apart the way it did to your parents. You have always valued your close-knit family and you want to preserve it in every way that you can.

What can you do? Here are a few helpful tips:

1. Give gifts in advance

You do not have to wait to pass your assets on in your will. You can give them to your heirs in advance. In some cases, this can help you avoid probate and speed up the entire process, which may make a dispute less likely.

It also gives you another advantage: Your heirs can talk to you. Often, disputes happen when heirs think your will does not reflect what you actually wanted. A child who thought he or she would get a specific heirloom feels angry when it goes to another child, for instance. Giving things out before you pass means the kids do not have to fight with each other about what you wanted. They can just talk to you. A short conversation can eliminate months or years of disputes.

2. Make your desires known

Do not put off your estate planning and run the risk of passing away without a will or any other sort of plan in place. Nothing is harder for a family, in terms of moving an estate on to the next generation, than not writing a will. Make sure they know exactly what you want. Leave nothing to chance. Be specific. Plan in advance.

3. Do not create conflicting wills

One lengthy and expensive estate dispute revolved around a woman who had created two distinctly different wills. The first left much of her vast estate to her relatives, including some so distant there is speculation she never met them face-to-face. The second left money to a goddaughter, her caregiver and a foundation, cutting those relatives out.

With millions of dollars at stake, those two sides went to court to debate about which will should stand. If the woman had simply thought harder about her real desires the first time around and just drafted one will, it may have had a better chance of standing uncontested.

Your options

These tips can help you avoid a dispute. It is critical to know what options you have to draft an estate plan that keeps your family close.

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