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'Family-proofing' the estate administration and probate process

TV shows and movies in decades past often depicted close families who, even if they argued, always ended up presenting a united front with no sibling rivalry or other family squabbles. As many Illinois residents know, times have changed. While many families do remain close, some never quite see eye to eye, which could complicate the estate administration and probate process.

When it comes time for parents to create their estate plans, they may hesitate doing so because they know that no matter what decisions they make, someone is not going to be happy. The last thing they want is for all of their planning to be for nothing and their children to end up in litigation. There are ways to help limit this eventuality, if not eliminate it all together.

While the first gut reaction may be to appoint one of the children as executor of the estate, it might end up backfiring when complicated family dynamics exist. Accusations and suspicions of coercion and dishonesty will probably be the result. Instead, it would probably work out better to appoint someone outside the family, perhaps even a corporate executor, in order to avoid these types of arguments.

Another way to help keep things civil is to sit everyone down and discuss how the estate will be distributed. Each child has the opportunity to ask questions, express concerns and even lodge complaints. These discussions do not have to change the current plan unless an Illinois parent wants to, but at least everyone will know what is coming and that the wishes expressed in his or her estate-planning documents are really what was desired.

It may be possible to take other steps in order to reduce or eliminate the potential for family conflict during the estate administration and probate process. An attorney experienced in this area of law could make suggestions for "family-proofing" an estate plan. While nothing is foolproof, it could give the parents, and perhaps their children, some peace of mind.

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