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When parents and children are estranged: Estate planning tips

It is an unfortunate reality that many New Jersey family members have bonds that are threatened or damaged over the course of time. Often, the relationship between parent and child becomes strained over decisions made by the child that are unacceptable to the parent. An example would be drug or alcohol abuse with no real effort to end the destructive behavior. Others grow apart based on a child's choice to pursue an illegal or immoral lifestyle. Regardless of the reasons for an estrangement, serious rifts between parents and children create a unique estate planning need.

Parents who choose to disinherit a child have a number of options for reaching that goal. It is possible to simply leave a child out of any existing will or trusts. However, this can lead to a great deal of strife and contention between the estranged child and any other children who were included in the will. A legal challenge to the estate plan can also cause a significant reduction in overall inheritance levels, as legal fees will be incurred on all sides.

One way to avoid this outcome may be to include the estranged child within the estate plan, albeit at a reduced inheritance level. A child who receives something as opposed to nothing may be less inclined to fight for a greater share. Another tactic would involve establishing a trust that required the child to meet certain criteria before the inheritance can be accessed. For example, a child who struggles with addiction could be required to complete a treatment program and remain sober for a defined period of time before he or she would receive the inheritance.

As with any other estate planning need, this is an area in which a well-designed plan can meet the goals of all involved. There is a great deal of flexibility available to individuals and families, and a range of options that can be employed. Each family structure is unique, and individuals in New Jersey have the ability to customize their estate plan to address estranged relatives.

Source: record-bee.com, "Your Legacy & Peace of Mind: Estate planning and the estranged child(ren)", Dennis A. Fordham, Sept. 3, 2014

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