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Economic hardship and second families can complicate inheritances

Saint Paul residents who expect to receive an inheritance may want to consider some distinctly modern issues that can lead to the dwindling of an estate. For example, Americans are living longer today than they did years ago. Today there are more Americans over the age of 65 than ever before, and it is expected that the over-65 population will grow from 13 to 20 percent of the nation's total population by 2050.

Today's advances in health care are helping people to live longer. Unfortunately, many of these people are living longer with debilitating diseases, such as Alzheimer's, and one result is that savings are sometimes diminished by the cost of health care. In fact, half of individuals over the age of 85 are living with Alzheimer's disease. These statistics may be a wake-up call for Minnesotans who haven't yet decided on powers of attorney and health care directives, since the lack of these documents too often leads to probate disputes.

The existence of second families is another common issue in modern probate litigation. When multiple families are involved, there may be numerous parties looking for an inheritance. In fact, over half of first marriages end in divorce, and 75 percent of divorced individuals will get married again. Over 40 percent of Americans have at least one step-relative. In these situations, spouses, ex-spouses, children, step-children and half-siblings may all seek to benefit from a will. Of course, such a wide distribution of assets is not always possible.

Recent troubles in the national economy have led to increased job loss, forcing estate owners to live on their existing savings and assets. Often, the result is that the estate dwindles, leaving less and less for heirs and beneficiaries.

Each of these situations has made drafting wills and determining inheritances considerably more complicated for many Minnesotans. That is why estate planners and heirs alike will want to look carefully at the legal options for preserving an estate and achieving a fair and equitable distribution of assets.

Source: USA Today, "With more blended families, estate planning gets ugly," Haya El Nasser, March 14, 2012

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