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Effective estate planning in a word: communication

It is certainly a common and valued goal of many American families to pass along the wealth they have secured to future generations. Notwithstanding that aim, though, and according to one estimate, only about 10 percent of those seeking to do so see that hope realized over the long term -- that is, to the fourth generation of descendants and beyond.

As noted in a recent Reuters article on estate planning, "Family wealth tends to dissipate over time."

That can especially be the case when families are large, far-flung and complex, with multiple kids, grandkids, spouses of offspring and step-relatives.

In such an instance, estate planning can become tricky.

In fact, “sticky” might be a more apt designation, given that a large number of people might be thinking about future stakes in one or more family businesses, inheritances, cash gifts and other sources of wealth that may be -- or might not be -- coming their way.

With complexity, say financial commentators, comes a strong need for family communication. The Reuters story tells the tale of one sprawling family in which seven siblings were consistently in the dark over many years regarding their parents’ estate planning decisions, with surprise after surprise being visited on them. The uncertainty and sudden new realities presented periodically created family fissures.

“[I]t would have been much easier … to have had conversations about it,” says one of the daughters.

That is certainly the bottom line as expressed by a number of experienced estate planners. Having early, candid and broadly inclusive wealth-related discussions among family members is key in promoting understanding, reducing conflict and shaping an estate plan that is fair and makes optimal sense.

And revisiting that plan from time to time with a proven estate planning attorney is equally important, given that material changes occur in all families.

Source: Reuters, "YOUR PRACTICE -- Who is family when it comes to estate planning?"Beth Pinsker, Oct. 29, 2013

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