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How can you keep your heirs from fighting?

You're worried that your estate is going to push your family apart. You've heard the horror stories about brothers and sisters who no longer speak because they got so upset about the way their inheritances panned out.

You know that you can't prevent all issues. Sibling rivalries may come into play. Kids may grow apart no matter what you do. That said, you want to take whatever steps you can to protect your family. You want that to be your legacy.

If so, here are a few things to consider:

1. Talk about it. No surprises!

Lack of communication is one of the biggest reasons for inheritance battles. Even so, studies have indicated that under 33 percent of people talk with their kids about the plan in advance. However, when parents did talk to their kids beforehand, more than 80 percent felt the treatment was fair and 63 percent did not dispute the estate plan.

Kids often feel blindsided when the will doesn't give them what they expected. The key is not to change the will, but to change those expectations. This also gives kids a chance to talk to you. They don't have to fight with siblings after your passing; they can ask you questions and you can mull changes together.

2. Use a non-contest provision.

This is a drastic step, but you can legally set the plan up so that it can't get contested. If it is, the person who did it gets cut right out of the will. For instance, perhaps your son thought he'd get $500,000, but he only got $100,000. If he contests it, he gets nothing. He may feel it's unfair, but he's best off to just take the $100,000.

The problem with this is that it's strictly a legal step. It doesn't accomplish your real end goal of keeping the family together. You force your heirs to accept your decisions, but they may still feel angry with you or with each other.

3. Avoid unfair splits.

Often, as you may expect, arguments just happen when things aren't fair. You have two kids, a son and a daughter, and your daughter gets more cash than your son. Or, you give valuable property to your son that your daughter thought should be shared, like a lake house.

You may feel that the uneven split is fair. Your daughter has a low-paying job, for instance, while your son earns more. You think leaving her more makes sense because she needs it more. Unfortunately, heirs often still feel slighted. If you want to do this, be sure to talk to them about it first.

As you can see, preventing disputes is not always possible, but fully understanding your legal options can certainly help.

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