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Minnesotans can take steps to avoid inheritance fights

Minnesotans who have been through a contested probate case or other inheritance dispute know that such controversies can take an enormous emotional and financial toll on families. While some of these probate fights may be unavoidable, there are things that Minnesotans can do to prevent some probate controversies.

For example, one simple step a person can take is to update his or her will or trust documents regularly, and especially after he or she goes through a major life change like the birth or death of a close family member or a divorce. When updates are not done promptly, it is possible that an heir, even a child, could be inadvertently disinherited. Litigation often ensues under these circumstances.

When someone has a lot of money or comes from a contentious family situation, then he or she may want to consider a careful drafting or his or her will that could give a disincentive to a family member or other person who is contemplating a will contest.

However, not all such provisions are enforceable in Minnesota, and these so-called "in terrorem" provisions may, at most, prevent a lawsuit that completely lacks merit. Unfortunately, most probate lawsuits will be found to have at least some merit to them even if they are ultimately unsuccessful.

One thing a person who is seeking to avoid an inheritance fight should not do is rely on his or her oral conversations, private gifts or unofficial writings to convey his or her wishes. Even if such things were undergone with the utmost sincerity, they are rarely enforceable in court and can often exacerbate, rather than eliminate, probate disputes.

While there are some legal steps that Minnesotans can take to reduce the likelihood of a fight over an inheritance, none of these steps are foolproof. Sometimes, a person will just have to hope that his or her family members will be able to get the best result possible after the person's death. An experienced probate litigation attorney can be valuable in this respect.

Source: Forbes, "Oscar winners teach five lessons on estate planning," Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Mar. 2, 2014

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