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Blended families and estate plan disputes

The likelihood of a dispute over a person's estate plan in Ohio may be higher if the family is a blended one involving stepparents and stepchildren. This is particularly true with stepmothers, largely because women tend to outlive men. The problem is not with stepmothers in particular but with the family tensions that can be exacerbated during times of stress and grief. Studies show that only 20 percent of stepmothers and stepchildren feel close to one another, and the distance in these relationships rarely closes.

If the marriage was a short one, the stepchildren might be concerned about the undue influence of the stepmother on the estate plan. Other problems may arise in longer-term marriages. The stepmother may favor her biological children over the stepchildren. There could also be resentment if the relationship started as an affair while the father was still married to the children's mother. This may lead to a number of issues such as parties withholding cremation remains. In other types of disputes, family heirlooms might get discarded.

Another situation that raises concern about undue influence is if a parent develops dementia before death. Some problems may be subtler and harder to tackle such as estate planning documents that appear to have gone missing.

In any family situation, estate plans should be reviewed regularly and updated as needed. This is particularly true after divorces, marriages, births and deaths. Reviewing the estate plan not only provides the opportunity to address any changes that need to be made as a result of these milestones but to review the overall effectiveness of the estate plan as well. For example, a person might decide that a trust is a useful tool. A person may be able to use a trust to avoid probate and ensure that assets are passed on to beneficiaries almost immediately.

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