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Complex families may give rise to complex estate disputes

In years past, matters related to estate planning and the succession of assets were fairly simple and straightforward. Using an estate planning tool such as a will or trust, individuals could clearly instruct how personal assets and belongings were to be divided amongst heirs. In most cases, the bulk of such assets passed to a surviving spouse, children or grandchildren without question.

Today, economic changes and those to the family structure have resulted in much more complex estate planning situations. In families which include current and ex-spouses, children, step-children and half siblings, the passing of a loved one may give rise to suspicion over the distribution of assets and, in some cases, spur legal action.

When a loved one passes, family members and friends are often overcome with grief and struggle to make sense of the situation. Adding to the hurt and pain often associated with a loved one's passing may be questions and suspicions over the distribution of personal belongings and assets as dictated by a will or trust.

There are a number of reasons as to why a family member may choose to contest a will or trust. Questions related to a loved one's mental state prior to their death may be a factor as well as potential ulterior motives of other relatives or associates. Whatever the reason, when the validity of a will is in question, many family members may choose to take legal steps to contest the will.

In such situations, an attorney who has experience handling probate litigation matters is an important resource and advocate. Such a legal professional can help determine the validity of a will as well as whether mental capacity or undue influence is a factor.

Source: nhmagazine.com, "Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning," Jeff Woodburn, July. 2013

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