An elderly woman on her deathbed has an estate worth $400,000. She has four children and a will stating that she wants each child to receive 25 percent of her assets after she dies.
The situation seems simple enough: The woman has a legal document in place—a will—that contains specifics on how she wants her estate to be passed along to her children. But according to estate-planning experts, this woman's death could kick off a long and expensive legal process that often turns ugly. Fights over inheritance can cause rifts in families that are sometimes impossible to heal, these experts say.
"Family fights among children after death occurs in a large percentage of families," says Tim O'Sullivan, a partner and estate planning and tax attorney at Kansas law firm Foulston Siefkin. "If the No. 1 goal is to create family harmony, then the estate plan ought to be designed in a way that preserves it. It's so sad to see what happens in these situations."
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How to Avoid Fights Over Inheritence