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Keep heirs from fighting over your estate

There's not always a way to keep your estate completely out of probate -- in some cases, probate is simply the process by which your estate is executed legally. But there are things you can do to minimize the chance that heirs will end up in long court battles, fighting over who receives what or how you really meant the inheritance to go.

The first step to keeping heirs from fighting over the estate is to ensure you know exactly what you want to happen and putting those wishes down in formal documents. A well-established will and other estate documents makes estate administration that much easier and helps ensure everyone understands exactly what your wishes were.

Of course, putting those wishes down in formal legal documents doesn't mean everyone will be happy with them. You can hedge against upset heirs filing lawsuits or other matters in court by talking about your decisions early. Make sure heirs know what is going to happen so no one is shocked, and make it clear that these decisions are yours and why you made them. Talk with your heirs about how you have decided to divide things and why you think it's fair. You might leave the home to the child who has lived with you for years and helped care for it while leaving other assets to other heirs, for example.

Finally, if possible, strive for fairness in your distribution. Leaving one child almost completely out is a good way to ensure trouble might brew -- and it's not even always legally allowed. Work with your estate planning professional to understand what state laws might come into play so you can align your wishes, estate documents and probate requirements correctly.

Source: Wealth Management, "How to Prevent Feuds Among Heirs," Anna Sulkin, April 10, 2017

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