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Issues with wills, and some tips for how to avoid them

Imagine you are one of two siblings, and your mother is nearing the end of her life. For a good portion of your life, you and your mother did not get along -- in fact, you barely spoke. But as time passed, you two realized that putting your differences aside was best for everyone. After your reconciliation, you and your mother enjoyed a few years of happiness. She soon passes away, and now its time to deal with her will.

Just one problem: she wrote the will during the years you two were not on speaking terms. She never altered the will, and now you get nothing. It's called disinheritance, and it causes immense stress for the entire family. The disinherited one is obviously upset; but the sibling(s) that get the inheritence also are left with a sense of guilt. They are left to grapple with a conundrum -- do they give some of their mother's inheritence to the other sibling knowing they reconciled? Or do they respect her wishes?

Obviously, the disinherited sibling could contest in this situation -- but that causes even more pain for everyone involved. Sometimes, though, it is necessary.

One way to avoid this scenario is to periodically check on your will and contact your attorney. You can review the document and update it as you see fit.

Another way to spare your family emotional pain and anguish is to create a "sprinkle trust." The trustee in this case would be an impartial third party, likely a financial institution. The trustee would then perform regular analysis of each heir's financial situation. Then, when the will is triggered, the trustee can proportionately or appropriately distribute the funds to the heirs.

A third and final way to address this type of situation is to put a number of clauses and provisions in the will that dictate how your estate is distributed. For example, say one of your children is a habitual drug user. A clause in your will could state that they are entitled to X (whatever assets they may be), but only if he or she does Y (certain rehabilitative actions) to get clean.

Source: Bloomberg, "You Want to Cut Your Kid Out of Your Will. Or Do You?," Lewis Braham, July 23, 2013

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