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Dysfunctional Family GraphicWorld crises have a way of making people focus on what’s important. For some people, that includes providing for their families after they’re gone. CNBC’s Stacy Francis points to an increase in estate planning since the pandemic began. So if you decided to get your will done because of COVID-19, you’re not alone. But what if you come from a dysfunctional family? Passing assets on to your loved ones is a priority, but you also don’t want a family feud over your estate. Some smart advice can help you protect your interests and keep the squabbling in check.

Know Potential Issues

Maybe you’re well aware of your family dynamics. Perhaps you’ve gone no-contact for your mental well-being. Or you remain in limited contact but watch all the drama from a distance. Whatever the situation, your beneficiaries aren't caught off-guard if you watch for telltale signs. Everplans mentions potential problem issues:

  • Sibling rivalry
  • Multiple estate executors
  • Substance abuse
  • Second marriages later in life
  • Estrangement or disinheritance
  • Unequal asset distribution

Such conditions don’t automatically ensure your family will fight over your estate. But keeping these and other complications in mind can guide your estate planning.

Document Everything

Keeping extensive documentation is key to your estate planning. When you’re dealing (or not dealing) with a dysfunctional family, that documentation becomes even more critical. You’ll need it to explain your planning decisions. For instance, it can clarify why your romantic partner gets your entire estate while siblings and parents get nothing.

Your documentation can also help defend your will in case relatives decide to contest it. Typically, people challenge wills on three grounds: lack of capacity, undue influence, or fraud. The Street lists some great examples of helpful documentation. Hang on to stuff like personal letters, notes from planning meetings, or video footage of your will signing. Anything that proves you made decisions on your own, understood their ramifications, and knew what you were signing is helpful.

Communicate With Those Involved

Anyone contesting your will must have the legal standing to do so. Usually, they must be an heir-at-law or named in a previous version of the will. Heirs-at-law include people who normally receive parts of your estate if you die intestate. Spouses and direct descendants are given first priority, followed by parents and siblings.

Nolo contributor Mary Randolph stresses the importance of making your wishes known to your family. But this can be difficult with dysfunctional family dynamics, especially if they’ve continued into your adult life. The last thing you may want to do is tell your abusive parent why you’re not leaving them anything.

So what can you do in these situations? Having someone else communicate with them may be your only solution. This could include the attorney who helped you create your will. Or you could hire a professional executor or trustee. As an impartial third party, this person shouldn’t be swayed by toxic family drama.

Choose Your Tools Carefully

At the bare minimum, your estate plan should include a will. But in some cases, other tools can help successfully pass on your assets. Revocable living trusts can include most kinds of assets – real estate, securities, business interests, intellectual property, and more. What’s more, these trusts bypass the probate process.

Someone with proper legal standing could still contest your trust document, but the process is even more involved than challenging a will. The Nest explains that the challenger must file lawsuits against all trust beneficiaries and prove lack of capacity, duress, or fraud.

Prepare for Your Future

Creating an estate plan is the first step to protecting your loved ones’ future. Dysfunctional families can make this process harder, but you can still take steps to safeguard your interests. Documentation, communication, and choosing the best tools are key to ensuring your wishes are honored after you die.

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