Blended families and estate planning disputes

Some families in Minnesota might become embroiled in disputes over an estate plan if there are stepparents and stepchildren involved. According to one study, only about 20 percent of adult stepchildren say they are close to their stepmothers. Women also have longer life expectancies than men do, so it might be more likely for the dispute to involve stepmothers than stepfathers.

These disputes might arise for a number of reasons. A short marriage, particularly one in which last-minute changes are made to estate planning documents, may be one trigger for a dispute. If the parent who dies had dementia, children may argue that the stepparent exerted undue influence over the changes in the estate plan.

Adult children reviewing their biological parents' records may become angry if they learn that their stepparents favored their biological children over them when providing financial and other types of assistance. People might throw out family heirlooms, argue over what appears to be missing estate planning documents or even disagree about what should happen to their parents' bodies. Situations can escalate to the point that locks are changed and people are locked out of their properties. However, taking steps to resolve these disputes early on can save money and reduce the emotional impact.

People may want to think about what steps they can take to reduce the likelihood of disputes developing among their loved ones after they die. A person should talk to his or her family members about his or her wishes so they can be prepared. The plan should also be updated regularly and after any major family milestones, such as births, divorces, marriages and deaths, or if a person's assets change significantly. Creating a trust can be another way to protect an estate from some disputes. A trustee who is organized and good at handling conflict, possibly a professional instead of a family member, might effectively manage the assets and their distribution.

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